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January 3, 2020

Book Love 2019

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , , , , , , — llcall @ 2:12 am

I shared once before that I have been recording every book I’ve read since I was 18 years old back in 1998. Although I didn’t set out to prioritize reading this year, it kind of happened anyway. And now as I look back on 2019, the thing I am most proud of is reading 44 books — the most I have managed since I was a history major in college with no kids and no social life (because chronic illness meant either school or fun, not both). So enamored I was with all my reading this year that I spent a little time analyzing the patterns and recurring themes.

  • 26 female authors/14 male authors
  • 13 memoirs of faith & doubt (basically every book my library had from the authors at this conference I attended with a friend)
  • 10 on prioritizing/organizing (see also: 2019 one-word theme)
  • 8 works of fiction, only 4 not specifically for book clubs and therefore chosen by others (clearly, my nonfiction love continues to run deep)
  • 4 children’s books
  • 3 historical Jesus studies
  • 3 parenting books (I probably should have doubled this considering how parenting is going lately. Ha!)
  • 3 on politics

I am not proud of the number 44 for its own sake, but for how invigorating it was to become engrossed in so many different perspectives and life experiences. It’s been a most stimulating year with much less Netflix and Facebook and much more quiet rumination! For the record, I personally derive value from Facebook as it also gives me a window into others’ worlds — and exposes me to funny memes! I venture to say that I would read a book written by nearly every one of my Facebook connections if such a thing existed! What I have embraced more fully this year, however, is how much reading longer works and physical books continues to feed my soul in this digital world.

My full 2019 list:

Books 2019 p1

Books 2019 p2

2019: Prioritize

Toward the end of 2018, my ever thoughtful and generous sister-in-law Robin-Elise sent me a bullet journal and two books about bullet/dot journaling. A new meditative/goal setting/self-help practice to explore? She knows me so well! Although I didn’t start using it at the beginning of the year, it ended up being a very important tool for focusing on my 2019 one-word theme: Prioritize.

Notwithstanding my intention to “baby” myself in 2018 (ala my one-word theme for that year), I did not take care of myself well. I don’t feel completely to blame for that because I certainly could not have foreseen the kind of baby Beckett turned out to be. She was relentlessly needy, screamy, and challenging. (You know something is a little off with your infant when people start to casually ask you how young someone can be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, which happened three times completely independently.) The point is not to write about Beckett now, though I want to do that too sometime, but to set the stage for how I started 2019 frazzled and frayed, feeling overextended and trapped.  One of my foundational goals in trying to baby myself was to eat — very complicated, no? — and even that had been pushed aside most days.

Neal’s answer for prioritizing is always cut, cut, cut. Cut everything out. Say no to everything. It’s the perfect strategy for a hermit with weak social ties. My approach is, of course, different. Like a true questioner (from writer Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies framework), I have to read a stack of books on the topic of prioritizing, track data on my time usage, and then reflect for months.

time trackingIMG_20200102_102904207 rotated

Now that I have a full year’s worth of time-use data, you would think I can start making some decisions, right? Ha! (Believe me, I see some of the ridiculousness of my methodology.) One of the interesting things about most of those books I read about prioritizing is that one of the underlying assumptions they make is that you have somehow lost sight of what is really important to you, that you are spending time on things that don’t align with your core values. I quickly learned, however, from tracking my work, volunteer commitments, and time with friends and family that virtually everything I do aligns with my most deeply held values. So to cut things out would be to, in some manner, cut out something that also gives my life the meaning I want it to have. How do you make choices when the same activities and obligations are both life-giving and life-sucking at the same time? Is there a book on that? (For real, I will read that book if you know of one!)

Even though I didn’t cut anything specific out (yet), the biggest “revelation” was basically going back to the self-care plans I had and miserably failed at in 2018. I decided, for example, that the first 15 minutes of every day I would read. With a baby I was still nursing for most of the year, that didn’t literally happen for the first 15 minutes I was awake. But I made it a habit before I did anything besides child care, and it was pretty magical. It was so much better to start my day with something other than work and it bled into trying to squeeze more reading into every other part of my day too. I have always been a person who doesn’t leave the house without a physical book in my bag just in case I have a moment to read, but this first 15 habit made it so that I barely walked around the house without carrying a book. And thanks to a fun little Atlantic article on why some people become lifelong readers, I now tell Neal, “I’m parenting right now—they can see me reading this book,” if I get any grief over my book addiction.

In the food realm, I resolved to eat lunch right after putting the baby down for her nap and to do it without working. What a novel idea! Lunch became physically and emotionally restorative now that I was reading instead of working during it. (I am already worried about how lunch will happen when Beckett stops napping, which Addison had already done by this age, but I hope if I reinforce the importance of this beforehand I will be fully committed to it when the habit has to be tweaked.) I prioritized sleep a bit more too and am proud to say I haven’t worked (paid work, anyway) after about 10:00 p.m. for almost 3 months. (It helped that I had my first T.A. during Fall semester.)

The Saturday recharge was also a big turning point for me. I have always been a homebody, but I codified the decision to not leave the house most Saturdays beyond my once-a-month commitment to help lead our local Good SamariTots chapter. Other than an occasional trip to the library, I usually camp out in my pajamas all Saturday and it has been heavenly (since Sunday is, by contrast, my most exhausting day with church and Addison home all day wanting to do/play 50 things at once).

The one thing I thought I was prioritizing right from January 1st was to declutter/KonMari our house. I had previously read Marie Kondo’s book and her respect for possessions and the sanctity of home resonated with me, but I never got too far in the actual process. Coming from a long line of pack-rats is not easy to overcome, but I was determined to make it happen this year as evidenced by reading 6 books on different methods of decluttering and organizing in the first 8 weeks of 2019. (My favorite title, though not necessarily book: The Gentle Art of the Swedish Death Cleaning. Enticing, right?!) I even made myself a colorful tracker in my bullet journal:


Clearly, I didn’t prioritize it as much as I planned since more than half the chart is still blank. But it’s on the agenda for 2020.

Something that wasn’t much on my radar as I started the year was to go back to therapy, but after 3 depressive episodes in the first 6 months of the year, that moved up the priority list. Thankfully I simultaneously learned of a reduced-price counselor training clinic, so Fridays were dedicated to that for me and for Addison.

I thought when I picked the Prioritize theme, the main result was going to be a tidier house and one or two fewer volunteer commitments. Although I did reduce the number of hours I volunteer at Addison’s school slightly, my house is still messy and cluttered and my schedule is still pretty full. But with some time management tweaks, more reading, and another round of therapy, I did successfully prioritize taking better care of myself. And thanks to an extended holiday visit with my parents where much babysitting occurred and Neal and I got out to see not one but two movies, I am starting 2020 in a much better place.

After 40 years on this planet (celebrated that milestone last year!), I think I’m getting better at this life thing. Or at least I’m eating lunch regularly. . .


January 4, 2019

My second birth story . . . finally


My birth map may be winding, but it was also specific. Based on a Birthing from Within suggestion to make a visual birth plan, Neal and I made this one-pager with ALL THE THINGS to manage my labor. I told myself from day one that I was going to prepare myself for a 22-hour labor (the length of my first). Since subsequent labors are almost always shorter, I would then be pleasantly surprised if it didn’t drag out nearly as long!

Knowing my propensity for eating too little (I didn’t feel much like eating the whole day I was in labor with Addison and I think not forcing myself to eat did factor into lots of fatigue by the end), food reminders figured prominently at the top. My doula Meliza recommended that when I knew I was in early labor, we head out to eat a big restaurant meal — anything that sounded good to me. Besides the baby, that was probably the part I was most looking forward to! But when I woke up to some bloody show on Sunday morning, December 24th, I knew my restaurant plans might be foiled (since one way we observe the Sabbath is by not eating out). While Meliza and Justine (my midwife) both said that it could still be several days before I actually went into labor since I was having very few mild contractions, they encouraged me to eat as much as I could and rest often just in case. I had Neal stay home from church to wait on me while my parents took Addison. I texted back and forth with Meliza much of the day, updating her on my continued bloody show but no contractions through the afternoon. In the meantime, I wrote.

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If I had known that I was in fact in early labor and our baby girl would be here in less than 24 hours, Addison and I might have done one of the “labor projects” we had discussed — baking a cake, playing Catan, or an epic game of Star Wars Monopoly. But since I wasn’t really contracting, I thought I probably needed to store up energy in case the process dragged out for several more days. But Addison was plenty occupied anyway, playing with her cousins until I also went over to my brother and sister-in-law’s house for Christmas Eve dinner around 5:00 p.m. I stuffed myself with French Dip sandwiches, loading up with protein, and then spent a little time holding my 2-month-old nephew before I felt a little gush of fluid around 6:30 and decided to head home. Even though we only live a block away, I felt two more little gushes while I drove home.

I got in touch with Justine immediately upon my arrival, letting her know that I thought my water might have broken. She had already told me that it’s common to think your water has broken when it hasn’t, so I certainly wasn’t sure about any of it. But she gave me instructions to open up the birth kit I would bring to the Birth Center, walk around for 10 minutes, and then use a specific swab from the kit to see if amniotic fluid was present. Sure enough, my water had broken and the birth “clock” was officially ticking on Christmas Eve.

Because I tested positive for Group B Strep, I opted for antibiotic treatment, which meant the goal was to get two rounds of IV antibiotics into me before baby girl arrived. We met Justine at the Birth Center around 9:00pm to get the IV placed and first round in. Of course, true to form, my veins were NOT cooperative. (I pray my girls don’t inherit this trait from me!) Two hours, several pricks, and one blown vein later, we were headed home to try and get some sleep before contractions started.

At 11:05pm, just minutes after we walked in the door, I had my first legit hard contraction — the kind you can only moan or grunt through. Still it was just one and we were hoping for some sleep first. Neal went to bed, but my contractions came more regularly, crowding out any chance for sleep. I called Neal a little before 1:00am because coping was getting progressively more difficult. By the time he started timing my contractions, they were already 4 minutes apart so we called Meliza to let her know it was time.


For all my mapped out coping techniques and positions, all I remember doing in the hour until Meliza arrived at our house was side-lying in bed, peanut ball between my knees, while Neal occasionally gave me counterpressure on my back. We had about 15 other “stations” set up around the house — exercise ball, rebozo, pads to kneel on in the shower, etc. — but in the middle of the night all I wanted to do was sleep or rest!

When Meliza got to our house around 2:00am, I was still lying in bed and my contractions had slowed a little. She came to the side of the bed and suggested I get up to labor for awhile to keep things moving, but I really didn’t want to. I just wanted to go to sleep. So she made me a little deal: how about two more contractions lying down and then we get up and try another position? I agreed and headed for the toilet when they helped me up after a couple more contractions. The movement really kicked things into gear! With contractions coming hard and only about 3 minutes apart, Meliza suggested we head back to the Birth Center.

Now that right there is the genius of a doula. In my opinion, that is why an experienced doula is priceless!! Meliza knew that I was close enough that some movement would get this baby coming. For me, I knew the contractions were hard but I was still trying to focus on the long-game . . . if labor takes 22 hours again, I need to rest right now, conserve energy. But she was absolutely right! It’s madness to try to sleep while you’re in active labor, when instead you could push the baby out and then actually SLEEP. Besides that, you can sure as heck bet that if Neal had tried to coax me out of bed like that, I probably would have been ticked. What does he know about it, right??!

Did I mention my mom was in town? Here’s where the genius of my mom comes in:  she started gathering all the food I’d planned and even getting some fruit ready that I hadn’t planned. FOOD! Although I can’t recall if I even ate anything during labor, I had a wonderful steady stream of yummy snacks afterward. My mom packed up the car and Neal drove us to the Birth Center while my dad and Addison stayed home asleep. (I had planned to have Addison do some labor coaching with me as we’d practiced, but when it came time, she was a little nervous about the process when she found out my water broke and I thought sleep would be better for her in the middle of the night.)

Although our house is just about 10 minutes from the Birth Center, the car ride was  excruciating, much as I remember the one before Addison’s birth being. My contractions were only a couple of minutes apart and there was nowhere to go for coping and I was feeling every little bump. Of course, it wouldn’t be directionally-challenged Neal driving if he didn’t make at least one snafu, so we passed the Birth Center originally and had to take the scenic route through the parking lot, complete with about 7 extra speed bumps. FUN! Finally, we got to the Birth Center about 3:30am.

Once there, the first order of business was to get my second round of antibiotics going. Although we’d kept the IV port in place, my veins are so small and uncooperative and the placement was so precarious that Justine thought for sure, she would have to redo the IV. It was difficult and time-consuming the first time, so I could only imagine how much harder it was going to be while I was actually in active labor and contracting every couple of minutes! This is where I think the greatest tender mercy came in as against all odds, my IV had held. She was able to get the IV hooked back up in mere minutes and checked me to find I was already 7 centimeters dilated.

I again headed to the toilet as I not only felt that I needed to go to the bathroom, but it had also been an effective place to labor. While my memory of every detail is not sharp at all, I do recall that I let out a loud, intense groan and there was kind of a “knowing” exchange on the part of Meliza, Justine, and her assistant Emily that we were getting close. For my part, I knew things were moving but I still assumed that I had hours left to get through.


The tub was just getting full and I moved into it hoping for some pain relief. (Neal hopped in with me, but have I mentioned that he actually had the flu while this was all going down? So he hung back a bit more than during Addison’s labor.) Once I was in, Justine checked me again and I was 9 centimeters. I was starting to push, but was worried about pushing prematurely (as I had the last time, involuntarily, which had caused the swollen cervix). But they all reassured me that I could just do what felt natural, so I got into a little bit of a routine where I would get on my hands and knees and push through a contraction and then immediately flip back over, sit down, and rest in between. I say a “routine” but I’m not sure how many times I actually did that before I could feel that baby girl was actually coming right then. It felt like it was all moving at the speed of light when you consider that I was still trying to steel myself for many more hours of labor! I’m not sure when I finally clued in that this was the end, but I do distinctly remember feeling the crowning and then her head coming out soon after, so hopefully I put the pieces together then!

I had not necessarily planned on a water birth. I knew that I wanted to use the tub as a coping technique, but I had always been a little nervous about giving birth in there. (That said, most of the studies I reviewed that people often use to scare about water birth really suggested that the negative outcomes could be attributed to bad practices rather than any inherent danger when you have a well-trained professional.) But things just progressed so fast, faster than I ever dared to hope, and she was born in the water at 4:47am.

Considering how much effort I put into preparing for a posterior labor/birth, it’s amazing how little it ended up coming up in labor. She was a ridiculously active baby throughout the pregnancy — less of a kicker and puncher than Addison, but even more constant and strange in her movements — but throughout the final weeks, it seemed clear that she was posterior based on palpation and where her heartbeat was most obvious. Even as late as that night at 9:00pm, all signs pointed to her being posterior. But Justine said that she must have been working hard all night, trying to get into a better position, because at crunch time, she was in just the right position and gave me no real trouble. (I mean, beyond the whole childbirth is among the most painful thing humans ever experience thing.)

What I remember immediately following her birth was just sobbing while holding her up to my chest. SOBBING so hard. I also remember thinking how cool it was that I had been able to feel everything and knew exactly what was happening vs. Addison’s birth where although I had felt some of it because I hadn’t had the epidural for very long, it certainly felt like it was farther away from me and I couldn’t see or feel exactly when things were happening. (Of course, some part of that was just that Addison needed a lot more hands-on intervention to get out.) Almost the next thing I knew, they helped me out of the tub, got us cozy on the bed, and helped get the baby latched on because she was going to town sucking on her thumb.

Thus commenced the “golden hour” where I was so focused on looking at my baby girl and trying to get her to nurse (which seemed immediately more difficult than how it had gone with Addison — for the good reason that she had both tongue and lip ties, we later discovered) that I barely noticed what was going on below my waist, although I know I had to get a few stitches for a tear.

I’m not sure at what point I started to realize this, but eventually it started to sneak up on me: I wasn’t feeling much, if any, pain. I remembered when Justine told me that most people leave the Birth Center about 3-4 hours after giving birth, I was shocked and thought there was no way I could be ready to leave that early! But when they asked if I wanted to get up and shower around 6:30am, I was ready (it probably helped that my baby girl had already done a huge poop on me). Shortly after that, my dad brought Addison over to meet her baby sister, Neal got the car seat installed, and we were headed back home by 7:30 as a permanent family of 4. Merry Christmas to us!

When we got home, sleep was the first order of the day. I snuggled up with the baby to try and nap for a bit while Neal went to sleep in another room. But I didn’t last long before I called Neal back in. I said, “I know this is going to sound really weird, but . . . my wrist really hurts and I can’t sleep.” Yes, indeed, I had just pushed a tiny human out of my body and the only thing that was throbbing was the vein that blew the night before.

Back when I was preparing for an unmedicated birth with Addison, I was always grappling with the idea that in some ways I didn’t fit the profile. Just for starters, I kind of hate exercise and physical exertion. I certainly had never experienced anything like a “runner’s high.” I never expected to either. My reasons for wanting an unmedicated birth were quite distinct from any desire to demonstrate physical prowess. So imagine my surprise when around 11:00am, I told Neal I was feeling great and I was going over for Christmas breakfast at my brother’s house. (I always knew our annual family tradition of scones was important to me, but dang, if that’s not true love, I don’t know what is?!)


First daddy skin-to-skin (while mommy eats and eats and EATS)

At the time, heading over there seemed like a totally rational thing to do, but in hindsight, it’s a little bit crazytown to leave your 6-hour-old newborn for fried dough. Not to mention how funny it probably was for everyone else — as if I had come over for Christmas Eve dinner with a basketball under my shirt and then come back a few hours later without it like nothing had happened. They all said, however, that I was impressively peppy! (Maybe too peppy, so I had to get hit with the flu two days later. Ugh.)

So that, my friends, is the story of the most AMAZING experience of my life! When I was agonizing about the monetary side of making the switch to the Birth Center (because we more or less had to wipe out our liquid savings to pay upfront and pray the insurance would reimburse some), Neal and one of my BFFs Victoria both made the same argument: This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, your last baby; doing it in the best way possible for you is exactly what your savings are for. Even my mom, who worried about it all like only a mother can, said several times that it was REALLY impressive the way my whole team worked with me. She said, “You could never have had that experience in the hospital.” So true! What a gift to do what felt natural to me, have SO much support in the process, and get the best possible outcome!


February 18, 2018

Labor Prep: Who/Where/How

One of my cardinal rules to deal with a potential posterior babe was that I would not lay on my back — no matter how good it sounded or how much pressure my birth attendants put on me. But of course, that poses its own challenges since hospitals are literally designed to try and get you to lay on your back, at the very least for delivery but often for laboring too. When we went on our local hospital tour, I spent some time asking about the types of adaptations their beds could make for someone who didn’t just want to lay down. (The answer: Um, what do you mean? even though I had actually read on their website that the beds were adaptable for different laboring and delivery positions, could have bars attached, etc.)

But perhaps I should back up a minute and mention that when I found out I was pregnant, I got on the phone with my insurance company to find out if they covered certified nurse-midwives so I could once again have a midwife while delivering in a hospital. They literally had no idea what I was talking about. They said I would just have to call every single provider on their list and ask that question. I started that laborious process, but figured there had to be a better way. Enter the Bakersfield Birth Network. Connecting with some local doulas, I soon found out that there were no CNMs in the whole city and surrounding area. What I had before simply wasn’t an option. If I wanted/needed to deliver in the hospital, I would have to see an OBGYN, something I still had never done in my life.

In a hurry to make an appointment in case the complications of last time arose again, I selected a doctor based on online reviews saying that she encouraged lots of questions and took plenty of time with appointments. That sounded promising and she did do that, but Neal was not comfortable with her. I was also hearing from the doulas that she was quite hostile toward low-intervention births. Although I ended up having an epidural the last time (and am very grateful for it!), I was again aiming to have an unmedicated birth, so we decided she was not the best option.

My second selection was based on a doula recommendation. This doctor was relatively new to the area, but one of the doulas had attended a birth with him and said he was more flexible than most and certainly open to unmedicated/low-intervention births. The problem: my appointments with him were kind of your typical 2 minutes, check the heart rate, no time to talk. Sometimes he would get conversational, but always about non-birth-related topics (kids these days kind of conversations really got him going). Notwithstanding my frustrations with the lack of substantive conversation, I think I would have stuck with him if not for his office’s complete lack of attention to detail with my medical records. I’ve already vented about this plenty (!!!) elsewhere so I won’t belabor the point, but his office did things like: failed to request my medical records despite talking about it several times, said they couldn’t find my lab results at the moment but “I’m sure they were fine…,” and needed prompting on the appropriate timeline for my glucose test and Rhogam shot, which included leaving several phone messages that were never returned. (Funny though, the one time I called and said that I would be filing a formal complaint against their office, I got a call back REAL quick.) I told Neal that it seemed fruitless to continue with this doctor since it felt like I was managing my own medical care. This phrase kept coming to mind with him:


By 31 weeks, I was beginning to doubt that if complications did arise he and his staff would even notice because of their lack of attention to detail. (Side note: I had done some initial online research about him, but didn’t find much. But this experience led me to dig deeper and on about the 10th Google page I found out that his medical license was currently sanctioned for . . . wait for it . . . failure to keep sufficient medical records, among other things.)

It was in the midst of these legitimate frustrations that I started to give serious thought to my original dream: to give birth at home or in a birth center. For obvious reasons, it wasn’t a possibility the first time. And knowing that the final word from each care provider the last time was that another pregnancy could be life-threatening and lead to organ failure, it never crossed my mind to consider an out-of-hospital birth. But at this point, I was 31 weeks along, no sign of the previous complications, and having to change medical providers anyway so I started interviewing local midwives and began to entertain the possibility once again.

Before I finish that thread, I have to interject with an explanation about how I discovered what was perhaps the most important aspect of this birth for me emotionally. As I mentioned, I ultimately loved the book Ancient Map for Modern Birth, but as I’ve hinted at there are many elements that feel a little too “new agey” for me and thus don’t resonate. In just the first few pages, England says this,

Knowing your heart’s question is central to preparing for birth as a heroic journey. You might have many cerebral questions about labor or your birthplace, but it is your heart’s question that will help you know yourself and thus deepen your preparation for labor and transition to parenting. You cannot answer this question with words and logic but must manifest the answer with your whole being through the way you live.

Yeeeaaaah . . . no. That’s what I thought when I read this. Here I was hanging out on the Evidence Based Birth website and looking for meta-analyses or systematic reviews on the Cochrane website, and they’re encouraging me to step away from cerebral questions and logic. I basically just read right past it, until I was a couple more chapters in and it hit me that I really did have a “heart’s question”: how can I make this birth healing for Neal? I didn’t just want to manage his anxiety about the birth, I wanted this to be such a different and better experience that the past would be truly healed. There is, of course, inherent folly in this question because it is not within my power to make something like that happen. I can’t even make him want to take out the trash, let alone have a life-changing experience. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that this was what I was seeking in all my researching, decision-making, doula-interviewing, and so on. Turns out, Pam England was basically right even though I thought it was a little kooky at first: you will “manifest the answer with your whole being through the way you live.”

So all that digression is to say that I knew I would never choose an out-of-hospital birth if Neal was not 100% on board, which he never remotely had been even though he’d humored me in touring several birth centers over the years. I had honestly considered opting for a quick epidural just to make this birth experience more relaxed for him, so you can imagine my surprise when he was totally up for the Bakersfield Birth Center. (A birth at home, not so much “because we suck at cleaning” and it was a little farther from the hospital.) In fact, he was so on board with it that he felt like we had already made the decision long  before I was done hemming and hawing and researching and second-guessing. A very strange departure for us!

And that is how, right before I hit 33 weeks pregnant, we completely changed our birth plan and care provider (and insurance too since Neal had just begun his new job). It took me a while to get completely comfortable with the decision, but once I did it was so freeing to realize that I wouldn’t have to advocate for myself or fight to do something as basic as NOT lie on my back. Beyond that, my midwife Justine was much more helpful in giving tips to avoid a posterior baby and palpating to determine her likely position. Also, yay for visits longer than 2 minutes! Questions asked and answered! Medical records obtained! My birth preferences discussed! (Is that too much to ask from “mainstream” obstetric care?)

So that’s the labor prep prologue. Next up: my birth story.

February 4, 2018

Labor Prep: Posterior Positioning

Although I wrote fairly extensively about Addison’s birth, one thing that became clear as I was preparing for this birth is that I was either never completely clear on how the posterior positioning affected the labor process or I had forgotten. I knew that a posterior position can happen completely by chance, but it also is more likely to occur in subsequent births and thus they think it can also be related to pelvic shape. So not knowing which was the case for me, I set out to learn as much as I could about how and why it occurs, how to prevent it, and how to labor effectively if it happened again.

The book Ancient Map for Modern Birth, the “sequel” (of sorts) to Birthing from Within, was incredibly helpful on this front with a whole chapter on stalled and back labor and how posterior positions played into those. It was really this small sketch on page 253, though, that kind of explained everything with one look:


It’s illustrating why you should never lie down on your back when you have a posterior baby — because, duh, their skull is now resting on your spine! Ouch! When I saw the figure, it flashed me right back to Addison’s birth and the specific sequence of events wherein I had been in lots of pain, but successfully coping by sitting/swaying on an exercise ball. There had been some encouragement, even pressure, from the nurses and midwife to get me into bed, but I was determined to keep moving as long as I could. Then they came rushing in saying that baby’s heart rate had dropped and they needed me to get in bed immediately so they could insert an electrode in her head. It was around this time that my pain started to shoot through the roof and that picture clearly shows why. It also led to involuntary pushing and “swollen cervix” (backward progress in dilation), which I didn’t even know was common enough with posterior babies to have a name until this round of research.

All this research led me to three conclusions: first, I needed to follow all the guidelines to try and prevent posterior positioning, especially no reclining (boo! I love me some reclining). Second, if I ended up with a posterior baby anyway, I would NOT lay on my back, no matter how much the doctor or nurses pressured me — side-lying would be the most they would get from me. And third, I needed to practice all the various positions for turning the baby so that I could keep moving and progressing like it was second nature when the time came. Thankfully, I had an awesome birth coach:

She was not only adept at timing my ice “contractions” (I’m holding ice in all these pictures), she just happened to be the perfect weight for sitting on my lower back/hips to relieve pain. Over our couple months of practice, she got pretty adept with the labor lingo too. “Are you ready for your counterpressure?” “I think it’s time for the rebozo.” Once she mischievously added an extra minute to the timer and when I reprimanded her, she said, feigning innocence, “I wanted you to try some camelback contractions too. You’ve got to be prepared.” Sneaky birth coach.

I was also religious about taking 30-minute brisk walks since some studies have found a link between that length of exercise several times a week and shorter labors (yes, PLEASE!), and if I was going to avoid laying down I would need lots of stamina. Addison wasn’t quite so helpful with those, as she would alternately stop to collect leaves and pick flowers or complain about how boring the walk was. (Kai Ryssdal is much better company.)

Knowledge is power, and I felt ready to handle another posterior baby if she came my way!

December 25, 2017

Labor Prep: Birthing from Within

I’ve wanted to chronicle some of my childbirth preparation (I want this girl to know I was at least as diligent as I was with Addison!) and since I’m 39+ weeks now and showing some signs of early labor, it may be now or never!

One of my biggest desires was to take a Birthing from Within class this time around since that was the childbirth prep book that resonated with me most before. Although there weren’t any local options, I found a perfect fit with a one-day, 8-hour class in Costa Mesa with Your Birth Team. It was a fast weekend trip to Orange County so that my parents could watch Addison and feed us lots of good food!

Neal was a little nervous about feeling exposed and uncomfortable during the class but it was a credit to Megan and Marlee, our mentors, and the small class size that he felt fairly comfortable. He thought they asked good, incisive questions to help us think through our past experiences with birth (spoiler alert: it was traumatizing for Neal) and create realistic plans and expectations. To say I loved the class would be an understatement — I would have done a weekly version if I could have!

There’s lots of reasons I connect with the Birthing from Within philosophy. Probably most fundamental is that it is more of a philosophy than a “method” per se, in contrast to some other popular childbirth prep programs like Bradley, Lamaze, hypnobirthing, etc. Of all the guiding principles, several fit very well with my conceptions before giving birth the first time:

  • Childbirth is a profound rite of passage, not a medical event (even when medical care is part of the birth).
  • The essence of childbirth preparation is self-discovery, not assimilating obstetric information.
  • Parents deserve support for any birth option which might be right for them (whether it be drugs, cesarean, home birth, or bottle-feeding).

Some fit even better after that birth experience:

  • Pregnancy and birth outcome are influenced by a variety of factors, but can’t be controlled by planning.
  • Pain is an inevitable part of childbirth, yet much can be done to ease suffering.
  • Fathers and birth partners help best as birth guardians or loving partners, not as coaches; they also need support.

I never could get behind the concept of not using the term pain as some prep methods suggest (instead referring to “waves” or “pressure,” for example) but especially after my labor, parts of which could only be summed up in this way apparently: “pain to exceed all pain I have ever EVER experienced.” Neal was, of course, a fabulous labor support and “coach” in many ways, but it also took a huge toll. And now with his residual trauma on top of the regular stress of labor and delivery, we knew it was a big priority for him to feel supported during the labor, especially in finding a doula that he felt as comfortable with as he did with Melissa. (Coincidentally, our wonderful new doula is also Meliza.) The goal is for him to be able to take more breaks than he got the last time — since last time around, his first bathroom break in about 7ish hours was interrupted by a frantic hurry, hurry, the baby’s coming! The breaks are especially critical now that he’s working on getting over the flu.

In case you haven’t noticed from reading my blog, self-discovery is a big part of almost every process in my life, so pregnancy, labor, and delivery has been no different. One of the ways that Birthing from Within emphasizes this is through “birth art.” It’s chock full of prompts and suggestions to creatively express your innermost thoughts, feelings, fears, etc. Interestingly, however, this was the part of the book that I engaged with the least. I think I tried a couple of times to create some art through the exercises, but the best I can say is that it felt a little bit more “new agey” than comes naturally to me. I never really got anywhere with it. I suppose my self-discovery process is typically a little more cerebral in nature, trying to find words and assign some order to what is going on inside.

But in the classroom context, I really saw how powerful the birth art process could be. One of the other attendees broke down in full-on sobs when asked to explain what she had sketched. Her previous birth had clearly been traumatizing and she articulated that trying to draw something representative really helped her understand the depth of emotion still there. The contrast in the birth art that Neal and I each created really shows just how much can be communicated without words:

Birth art

In case you can’t tell, my imagery of birth (on the left) is about the peaceful, end result. Neal’s: not so much.

But I loved Neal’s piece so much that I began to use it as a coping technique, tracing the various colors with my finger or eyes, during my practice “ice contractions.” As I’m staring at it, I think about how things don’t have to be serene or peaceful to be beautiful. An apt reminder for childbirth.

December 21, 2017

2018: Baby

It’s been a while since I’ve done a proper one-word theme for the new year. I seem to recall that for several years my first thought was Survive, which felt maybe a little too pessimistic to make it official. As I’ve been contemplating 2018 (still can’t believe we’re here now!), not surprisingly, Survive was also what came to my mind first. It’s definitely Neal’s mantra right now.

But as I was tossing and turning this morning, I realized that Baby is a much more fitting theme. Sure, there’s the obvious meaning: that we’ll have a literal baby again in the next week or so. But beyond that, I think there’s a lot of “verbing” to be done with this. I was reminded of this specifically when Addison had a (thankfully mild) flu last weekend. Neal banned me from sitting too close to her or cuddling her for fear I would catch it, but as I sat a distance away from her on the couch, she took my hand off my laptop and held it in hers. I was trying to wrap up my grading and final emails for the semester, but every time I took my hand back to my laptop, she grabbed it again in seconds. Finally, I acquiesced, put my work down, and just sat for the next couple of hours holding her hand while she watched inane cartoons. This simple moment was a clear reminder: even though I need her to be the big sister and helper, she will also need some babying through this transition.

2017 was a rough year for her in a lot of ways; enough that her pediatrician gave us a psychiatrist referral to have some assessments done. Those subsequent meetings with a social worker and therapist felt a little futile and disappointing, but the general consensus from them and the school personnel we’ve worked with has been that the amount of change she’s gone through in one year has perhaps just been a little more than even a gregarious, resilient 7-year-old can take gracefully. It’s certainly not rocket science to think that a new city, 3 different schools, 6 temporary siblings, a new full-time job that takes her dad away for the first time in her young life, and now a new baby is a lot to handle! So we need to baby Addison in 2018. Make sure she has one-on-one time with both of us. Respond to her bids for connection even if it means putting down the baby sometimes or cutting into time I’ve planned for work. Don’t expect too much of her. (Though as I’ve transferred a lot of chores solely to her over the last couple of months of the pregnancy, I can see that it will be difficult to strike the right balance. Some of you will not be surprised — *cough Elizabeth cough* — to hear that I can be a bit demanding.)

Beyond just surviving, Neal’s refrain right now is that this is going to be the hardest year of our life together. (He’s such an optimist!) His new job is often intense and we’re stressed financially . . . but if you know Neal, you know that it’s mostly about the sleep deprivation. That guy does not like to lose a minute of precious sleep, and babies are just the worst about that! I don’t know exactly what babying Neal will look like, but I’m sure it starts with accepting his preferred methods of unwinding even when they drive me crazy (like when I walk into our room and he’s playing two different games on his phone and computer simultaneously. What? WHY??!).

But at least he’s got some self-care and “escape” methods up his sleeve, which it became increasingly clear to me over the last year that I have still failed to adequately develop. I still love to read, but my books always end up being about parenting, education, politics, or economics. And when I sit down and pull up Netflix, I often gravitate toward depressing documentaries. So . . . not exactly escapist fare, or usually even relaxing.

On some level, what I first thought when I pondered babying myself is a bit absurdly basic: I have to eat. Regularly. I know this comes naturally to many, but when I’m tired, stressed, or trying to get some work finished, eating is the first thing to go . . . and I can easily let it go for 8, 9 hours at a time. I’ve never been a snacker, but I’ve also never been one to schedule mealtime into my routine (hence our woeful track record of forgetting to feed Addison lunch during her pre-school years). So while I may not be able to schedule lunch every day, I must eat.

With Neal working full-time, this will also be my first time going it alone with night-time infant care. (I actually did almost no nights at all with Addison per medical advice since I had been so sick for so long by the time she arrived.) So I’m trying to remind myself to sleep when the baby sleeps. I really hate napping; it just doesn’t work well with a long history of insomnia. But I couldn’t have survived this pregnancy without more naps than the rest of my entire adult life combined, and I think I will have to baby myself by continuing to nap regularly.

In some of the pregnancy books I’ve read this time around, they talk about cultures where there is a specifically defined period of “confinement” after you give birth. I’m planning to adopt one of the longer ones: 60 days. I’ll still have to jump right back into a new semester — and I actually have a higher credit load next semester than I have for the last year — but that’s in my pajamas from bed as usual! But beyond that and school pick-up (thankfully, Neal can still do most mornings because of his late start work schedule), I plan to stay pretty unscheduled. I’ve even declared myself on “maternity leave” from my calling at church — some people have laughed so that may not be a thing, but I’m babying myself by acknowledging up front how little I will feel like wrangling 7-year-olds for the next couple of months.

The one problem with the “confinement” idea is that even though I know I will want to stay mostly home-bound, isolation is definitely a risk factor for postpartum depression. I think we all anticipate that it will be an issue again (and maybe worse with Neal gone most days?), so I do wish I had been more proactive in making local friends. I do have some and thankfully, I’ve got my sister-in-law right around the corner but I still really miss the many close friends I had in our mountain town. I will have to persuade some of them to come visit! Luckily, I’ll have a cuddly baby to use as extra enticement . . .

Besides babying myself by eating, sleeping, and seeking help and social support (why do those three simple things sound like such a Herculean feat in my mind?), I want to focus as much as I can on the baby. My last baby! I need to set clear boundaries around my work time and hold her as much as humanly possible. I’m used to exceeding expectations at work and going the extra mile for my students, but this semester, I need to meet their needs but scale back and not go over my contracted hours as I sometimes do. Another Herculean feat of willpower for this workaholic!

Feel free to hold me accountable next year (and ask what I’ve eaten lately as my midwife does in almost every communication now) . . . it’s almost BABY time!

November 20, 2017

Phase One complete.

Filed under: Family, foster parenting, Motherhood, Personal — Tags: , , — llcall @ 3:25 pm

That baby I’ve been grieving is long since gone. It’s been 10 months (exactly, today) since he went away. Life has moved forward in so many ways, some completely unexpected — like I’m going to give birth again in about 6 weeks. WHA???!!

I’ve asked myself sometimes why I’ve been compelled to finish those last two chronicles of our journey with Baby B when the emotional toll has sometimes been heavy and the tears (and thereby headaches) have flowed freely. I stumbled on this quote, which is just about right:

Gloria Andzaldua


What does the real world not give me? Time, for one. Life moves at a frenzied pace — I mean, how is 2017 almost over, am I right?! Addison moves at a frenzied pace, often leaving little surprises in her wake (this week: mosquito repellent lotion in the dryer. Why? No clue.) Foster parenting moves at a frenzied pace. It took months to get those first couple of phone calls . . . and then we might get 3 or 4 calls in a week for a while. As I’ve observed and listened to veteran foster parents over the years, I’ve marveled at how they embrace (accept? tolerate?) the constant change. I can’t help but feel different in my need to think, and process, and write. Repeat. I guess writing is a little bit like my pause button. And I must pause; there is no other way.

One day as I was in the midst of trying unsuccessfully to write those final pieces of the fostering journey, around the one year mark, Neal mentioned quite offhandedly that he sometimes checked the Facebook pages of Baby B’s mom and grandma and saw more recent pictures of him. This is perhaps not shocking to anyone else, but I was absolutely bowled over! I suppose you have to understand my very limited Facebook habits: scroll through my friends’ posts; keep up with messages here and there (admittedly, not my strong suit); and click on interesting posts about politics, religion, or parenting. I seldom do the “stalking” thing or go to anyone’s page that I’m not “friends” with, and so it had never crossed my mind to seek out his family. But once I knew that a picture of the little guy was just a couple of clicks away, I couldn’t help myself. Oh, how grown up he looked! Still totally recognizable, but not even a little bit baby-like anymore. I wept with even greater intensity than usual, much as I’ve imagined I would if we ever crossed paths without warning at a park or grocery store.

I’ve wondered if healing should mean that I don’t weep anymore . . . about seeing a picture of him, or writing about that time, or just remembering him. Finally now, about two and a half months after I had intended to finish writing this “story,” I feel it’s complete. Ultimately, there was just a little mist in my eyes, a couple tears here and there in the finishing. But rather than healing, that feels a little wrong to me — like I should have many more tears for something/someone so significant. But maybe that’s just because I am a person that would hit the pause button forever if I could. (Or I’m instinctively drawn to pain. Also true.)

As I’ve alluded to a couple of times, we’ve fostered several other kids besides Baby B, ranging from 8 months to 16 years. But for a variety of reasons I haven’t desired to chronicle those experiences in detail: shorter duration = less bonding and emotion to process; older ages = more high-stakes situations and trauma. We’ve kept a running list of our lessons learned (emphasis on our because it’s more about figuring out our own path through the system rather than widely applicable advice):

  • Social workers are always about the kids (not a bad thing) so you have to guard your own family. (We also encountered one social worker in that period who obviously didn’t care at all for the child, which was 1000 times worse.)
  • Relevant information will always be left out.
  • Document everything. (Even if it will make a social worker’s eyes bulge at the level of detail and specificity.)
  • Teenagers are a whole different ballgame (and also super freaking expensive)!
  • Teens require more work ahead of time to determine family rules and boundaries.
  • Speaking of, the fastest way to figure out your most hard-and-fast rules is to listen to your child explain them to new kids in the home: “You better eat that because she does NOT feed people after dinner. No snacks, nothing!”
  • Children coming into the system for the first time may be crazy hard no matter what age.
  • School-age kids are the way to go — built-in breaks! (Neal’s preference)
  • Don’t say yes to placements that you wouldn’t be willing to keep forever; “temporary” doesn’t always turn out to be temporary and vice versa.
  • Snuggle kids as much as physically possible even if it’s way past bedtime. (Not Neal endorsed, for obvious reasons)
  • Don’t forget to take pictures.

We’re not entirely sure what the future holds on the foster parenting front. There were definitely some times when we weren’t sure we could continue, but I think we successfully worked through those feelings. Now we’re on hold until we get this new baby here, determine her health status, and adjust to infant life again. While we’re keeping our foster certification (now legally called “resource family approval”) up-to-date, Foster Parenting: Phase One is officially complete.

November 19, 2017

Aftermath, Day 143

Filed under: Family, foster parenting, Motherhood, Personal — Tags: , , , — llcall @ 8:59 pm

28 January

Walking by the playroom was the hardest part. Even though we had sent almost all of the toys and many of the books with Baby B when he left, there were still so many reminders in that little space. He lived in this new house with us for only two weeks, but there was the corner I used to sit in and read board books or toss balls at him. There were the French doors he loved to open and slam, sometimes upsetting himself because he felt trapped by his own efforts. It didn’t help that the playroom is adjacent to the front door, so every outing or errand could trigger a breakdown just beforehand. (Thank goodness I can literally go days, weeks without leaving the house if needed!)

My mind played a lot of tricks on me in the days after. Addison and I both would hear his noises and momentarily forget (or attempt to forget) that he was gone. “Maybe he’s just hiding,” Addison would say, and peek into the pantry or laundry room. But the nights were the worst with my long history of vivid dreams. I would frequently wake up panicked, drenched in a cold sweat. We never put the baby in the crib last night! I know I never put him in the crib. Where is he? Did we leave him somewhere? In my half-sleeping stage, I would sometimes bolt out of bed to look, starting with the pack-n-play still assembled in our room. Neal packed it up for the garage shortly thereafter. Both waking and sleeping, there was often this vague feeling of not knowing how many kids I have. Who am I responsible for? Have I taken care of them? Have I forgotten someone or something important? It was an eerie feeling to walk around with (one that did not dissipate quickly since 4 more foster children would join us in the weeks and months after).

Just before Baby B went away, we had printed scads of pictures to share with his mom and grandma. Afterward I had intended to stash them all in my “loss box” with the clothes, casts of his hands and feet, and a few other mementos. I was sure it would be emotionally counterproductive to display any to be seen on a daily basis, but as we continued unpacking and placed photos on the mantel, Addison begged to frame one of the baby’s pictures and leave it up. That was the first real wrestle to reconcile what I thought would be best for my coping with what Addison seemed to need. Eventually I agreed to let her frame her favorite picture and place it alongside other momentous family events, from our wedding to her birth and beyond. Emboldened by that, she took several more pictures out of the stack and placed them in strategic locations. It especially melted my heart when she put one on the back of the passenger seat in the car so that she would be able to “see him everyday on the way to school!”

One day a couple of weeks later, I walked out to the living room to see Addison standing on the sofa, holding the picture we had framed together. “I just wish this were real,” she said as she tenderly touched the glass. “I just wish I could reach through the picture and touch his tiny hands again. His skin was so soft. I wish I could feel his soft cheeks. I wish I could smell him.” It was a special moment with my little girl, reminding me that she’s not always a bruiser and perpetual-motion machine. I knew then that Baby B’s picture was right where it was supposed to be, among our family’s most significant moments of life.

November 16, 2017

Goodbye, Day 135

Filed under: Family, foster parenting, Motherhood, Personal — Tags: , , — llcall @ 1:22 am

20 January

What began as pick-up-Baby-B-and-keep-him-overnight-at-least on Labor Day 2016 became plan-to-have-Baby-B-until-December, and eventually plan-to-have-Baby-B-until-June. Until a Wednesday evening in January when there would be no more plans; just bring the baby and all his things to the Social Services lobby on Friday at 9:00 a.m. The week before, the social worker had indicated that the process of transitioning him to grandma might take several weeks, but that was not to be.

I spent Thursday night alternately packing and sobbing. The clothes were the hardest thing. Thanks to the generosity of several people, we had an abundance of clothes for him. Some he had never worn, but was oh-so-close to fitting into. I was preemptively missing getting to put him in a little tie/vest/suit combo. (But I was preemptively missing everything; that’s grief for ya.) As pragmatic as I tend to be about relentlessly using up anything that costs money, there were two pieces of clothing, in particular — a pair of footie pajamas and a collared shirt — that I couldn’t bring myself to pack. I rationalized that the footies were almost too small, so he wouldn’t get much more use out of them. But the shirt had plenty of good wear in it. Still, I just kept hugging it and weeping into it. I hadn’t intended to keep any of his clothes, but after watching me wrestle for way too long, Neal convinced me to just keep them and move on. Nobody would miss one shirt among 3 boxes of clothes.

Besides the clothes, I had always planned on including some type of painting with the baby’s handprints in my “loss box.” But in his perfect Neal way, he suggested that casts would be so much better for me. He knew that I would want to press my hands into something more tactile, and run my fingers along the imprint of his little fingers and toes. So early that Friday morning, he worked out some clay and made me an external imprint to go with my internal one. And then we packed up the car and drove through a hard rain to drop off Baby B for the last time.

The lobby hand-off was exactly as hard as I thought it was going to be. I cried, of course, but kept it from becoming full-on sobs. Grandma seemed taken aback at first, got a little misty herself, and said, “Oh, of course, you’re sad. I know you’re very attached to each other.” She invited us to a birthday/Christmas/welcome home party for him the next day, and to come visit whenever we wanted, which surprised us a little bit. Some foster parents maintain a relationship after the transition but we had a strong conviction that he was too young to benefit much from that. He needed to replace me in particular with other mothers in his life; we certainly didn’t want to prolong that for our own sake. (Since he had few, if any, male figures in his life, I do sometimes wonder if having some contact with Neal would have been a net positive for him. But since we’re kind of a package deal, I’ll never know.)

After we got back in the car, the full-on sobbing came and came . . . and came. Neal asked what we should do and I just said, “Drive.” And so he drove with no particular destination, through alternating mists, drizzle, and heavy rains. It was one of the darkest days we’d ever seen in this hot, sunny place. A perfect pairing of moods.

A couple of times we ended up near our house, but I just couldn’t bear to go in. With both girls at school, the quiet emptiness would be too much. Not to mention all the little reminders, including his breakfast remains still crusting over on the high chair. We ended up in a Macaroni Grill parking lot. I wanted to go in and eat but a fresh wave of sobbing was coming on, so we just parked instead. Mostly we talked about all those “I would get too attached” comments, which had so recently begun to sting. I was feeling what too attached feels like — can’t breathe, can’t eat, breaking apart from the inside out. And still it was inevitable and right. How could I feel anything but this in saying goodbye to such a special little person?

Neal said, “Maybe what people really mean when they say they couldn’t be a foster parent because they would get too attached is, ‘I worry I might be so broken afterward that I wouldn’t be able to put myself back together again.'” That seemed right, the very thing I had spent years grappling with myself. It was a leap of faith to decide that I have the mental health and coping skills to do this thing; now would be the test of whether I was right. That Ernest Hemingway quote I’ve long loved kept coming to mind: “Life breaks us all, and many are strong at the broken places.” Now was yet another moment, week, month, year for becoming strong.

We drove and parked and talked for hours until it was time for school pick-up. I had a new strategy, born out of necessity, for getting through the after-school hours:  bribery. Never one to sit still for long periods of time (or 2 or 3 minutes), I told Addison that if she cuddled with me she could watch shows or download new games on my phone. I held her for two straight hours, all the while wondering how people do it who don’t have another child to hold onto, to keep them tethered. (Perhaps that’s why in all the foster support groups we’ve ever been to, the veterans told us to say yes to a new placement as soon as possible after a goodbye.)

Beginning that night and for several days after, I listened to one of my favorites on a loop:

For child I am so glad I found you 

Although my arms have always been around you

Sweet bird although you did not see me

I saw you


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