right now – January

January 30, 2015

CentreofLuxembourg

 

This has been a slow month, in a good way mostly. My days are full of not very much – play with my wee girl, make more baby food, try to fit all the cleaning and emails and projects into the few hours she naps. There is lots of space for imagining and day dreaming and planning a hundred future things, and not a lot of space for doing any of them. I’m tired all the time.

But I’m happy too. I get to see Kaya changing and developing in new ways every single day. It’s incredible. Even when I’m tired and frustrated. And I’m (present tense) learning how to hold all those ideas and dreams in open hands, wait to see which ones will take flight one day.

 

This month I’ve been mostly…

reading.

I finished up The Invention of Wings, by Sue Monk Kidd, which I really loved. It’s the second novel I’ve read by her. I’m curious to try reading some of her memoir soon.

I’ve started reading People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks, which I found in a second hand stall just before Christmas. It’s an intriguing book so far but I’m also not entirely sure I enjoy her writing style, there are so many odd jumps in the action. But maybe that’s all going somewhere…

My next book club read is All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr, which I am taking away on holiday with me to the French Alps this week. Heard so much good about this one!

 

eating.

It’s such a treat to have more time to bake and cook again, now that Kaya takes longer naps during the day. These fig and hazlenut biscotti, using this recipe from Smitten Kitchen are a favourite (I’ve made them before with walnuts but only had hazlenuts in the flat this time).

Surprise success of the month goes to this Aloha Meatloaf. I made it feeling somewhat skeptical, but Rasmus and I wolfed down about 75% of it in one meal. So good.

We also did a “brunch for dinner” meal this week, when I tested out this Harvest Breakfast Braid. Next time I’ll increase the nuts, cranberries and cheese, and lower the marmalade. But it’s really good.

It’s been the month of new and unusual (for us) ingredients:

  • Black beans,which I made these Butternut Squash and Black Bean Enchiladas with (I used pumpkin) – simple and yummy. Rasmus was cynical but even he enjoyed them. And then I used up the rest in Black Bean Brownies. They tasted good but the texture was still a little, well, beany.
  • Kale, the first time I’ve ever spotted it in Luxembourg. I made this Cream of Mushroom Soup Rigatoni Bake with Bacon and Curly Kale (I used sausage instead of bacon and shop-bought soup) which was yummy. And used the rest in kale chicken cheddar burgers that Kaya wolfed down (I created a “food for tinies” pinterest board if you’re at that stage too!)
  • Red cabbage – not so unusual but the one I bought was enormous and we were getting sick of red cabbage salad. One winning recipe was this Purple Smoothie – who knew cabbage in a smoothie would taste good?!

 

watching.

Rasmus and I started watching Homeland and made it through season 1. It’s on the top end of what I can cope with on the scary scale (I’m easily spooked) but I liked it mostly. It’s not the most layered analysis of terrorism and Middle Eastern politics, but since we’re both usually tired enough that one of us (ahem, Rasmus) always falls asleep mid-episode, that’s maybe a good thing.

I also watched a few films for the first time in months. Salmon Fishing in the Yemen was a book I read last year so I was interested to see what the film would be like, especially since it has Emily Blunt starring, and I am mildly in love with her. The film was good, but not great. The storyline had changed quite a bit, and I much preferred the grittiness of the book to the romcom film version.

I also watched Seeking a Friend for the End of the World. I really liked this one. It’s sweet and funny and thought-provoking. And Keira Knightly is only a little bit annoying in it. One night when Rasmus was out I went all romcom and watched He’s Just Not That Into You, which was a fun film.

 

listening.

Rob Bell launched a new podcast (the “RobCast“!) this month and I really enjoyed his first episode. It was a timely reminder about saying no to the wrong things, so I can say yes to the right things.

 

exploring.

Rasmus and I have resolved to make the most of however much time we have left as a dual-unemployed couple. For all the downsides, there are so many silver linings too, not least having time as a family to go exploring. We’ve made a list of local places we’ve been meaning to get to and are starting to tick them off.

This month we found the centre point of the Luxembourg in the middle of a forest north of Mersch, and we did a day trip to the German city of Saarbrucken, which was a little unimpressive but we found Mexican food and a Starbucks, so all in all, a success!

 

on the blog.

The post I’ve been working on for six months went live – Kaya’s birth story, on feeling like I’d failed and how I learnt to redeem that memory. And I told you my new word for the year

 

Linking up as always with the lovely Leigh Kramer. These posts have become surprisingly important to me. It’s such a good way for me to record time passing, to reflect on what I’ve done and why I did it. Anyway, click over there to find everyone else’s links and a whole realm of new inspiration…

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Kaya's birth story. And how I learnt to redeem a memory.Three hours old.

Full disclosure: this is a post about birth. So it includes details you may normally classify as “too much information”. Just saying…

**

It’s a thing, in blogging world, to write up your birth story and share it with the world.

I thought I would.

I did so much preparation for Kaya’s birth. I read books, I watched youtube videos, I visited the hospital I’d be giving birth in. And we took a hypnobirthing course. I expected to be typing up the whole thing within days of the big event.

The thing is, Kaya’s birth was so entirely not what I expected, that I wasn’t sure for a long time how to tell the story. And I felt foolish in the telling. I felt like if I told the honest-to-God version, I would only look naive and weak.

But good friends have been kindly telling me that I’m basically being an idiot. I may have been a little naive but I am certainly not weak.

So here is Kaya’s story, which is really our story.

**

As I said, I prepared.

It was important to me from the beginning to attempt a natural birth. Without pretending to be a medical authority, it seemed to me that this was the best option for my baby, and I thought if women all over the world could do this thing without pain relief, then so could I.

We signed up for a private hypnobirthing class with a wonderful local woman. Five times, we sat on her sofa learning and talking and practising birthing meditations together. We watched videos of couples who’d followed the hypnobirthing approach and I was in awe at how calm and beautiful their births were as they seemingly breathed that baby out.

I was entirely convinced. I told everyone that pain is increased by fear and tension, so just by learning these relaxation techniques, I’d be able to avoid much of it. I went to bed many nights listening to the relaxation tracks we’d been given. I wrote out a birth plan full of all my natural birth preferences. I stopped talking about contractions, but called them waves or surges.

**

Two days after my due date, I went to bed a little later than normal, feeling nothing out of the ordinary. Half an hour later I attempted to roll over in our tiny bed, and felt my waters break. By the time I made it to the toilet the first contraction was wrapping me in it’s full body embrace.

So this is it, I thought.

We got back into bed and started using the relaxation techniques. Rasmus turned on the birthing meditation soundtrack and I lay on my side, trying to let the contractions – sorry, waves – wash over me. It hurt, but at first it felt manageable. Rasmus pressed against my back as each one began, to help with the pressure. And he was keeping track of the timings so I didn’t have to.

We stayed that way for the next six hours, which passed in a blur as I worked hard to stay relaxed. Already it wasn’t exactly what I’d hoped. I had increasingly horrible back pain which left me nauseas after each contraction, despite Rasmus applying counter pressure each time. And then there was the diarrhea. That didn’t really fit into my romantic idea of birth.

What was good? Rasmus. He was calm and strong and ever-present. He collected clothes for me when I suddenly realised my hospital bag contained everything for the birth and the baby and nothing for me. He was by my side through every second of each contraction. He figured out what I needed, he encouraged me when it was hard, and he was sure when I was uncertain. I relied entirely on him. If he wasn’t there when a contraction began, I started panicking, until he ran to my side again.

**

At some point I looked up from a contraction and noticed light coming in the window. I’d not realised how much time had passed. Rasmus told me my contractions were now five minutes apart so we decided to head to the hospital then, before the morning rush hour began. I got dressed in between contractions and then hung onto him in the lift.

It was entirely surreal driving the five minutes to the hospital. I watched the few early morning workers on the streets thinking it was so strange that they could be going about their day as normal while my baby was making its way into the world.

The maternity ward was nearly empty. We checked in to our delivery room and they started measuring my contractions. It was hurting a lot. And the nausea had kicked up a notch together with the back pain. I started throwing up after every other contraction and it destroyed my confidence. I sobbed each time leaning hard into Rasmus.

Our incredible midwife got me to sit on a pilates ball and there I stayed for a few hours, rocking back and forth in pain, trying desperately to remember to relax but feeling my dream-calm birth slipping from my grasp.

Eventually my midwife asked if I wanted to try being in the water, so they filled up the bathtub in the next room and I moved through. The water was warm and I appreciated being able to move my body around more freely through each contraction, but it wasn’t the relief I’d heard from other woman.

I felt like I was barely holding it together by then. The pain was overwhelming but I was still not fully dilated. They encouraged me to squat in the water to help move the baby down. With each contraction I shouted and cried. I’d planned to focus the sound down into breathing, but all thought of a calm birth had disappeared. The sound forced its way out of me.

I felt like a complete failure. All that preparation. All the people I’d confidently told about hypnobirthing. I was doing this all wrong. I was weak. I couldn’t control my own mind, couldn’t stay in that relaxed state. I was overwhelmed by the job in front of me and started to wonder if I could do it at all. Was it too late to ask for pain relief?

Rasmus sat behind my head as I laboured, my fingers linked through his, my elbows inside his, pressing back into him each time. Later, he emerged from the birth with bruising across his chest and down his arms, both our fingers swollen from our tight grip. He fought with me through each contraction.

He was my rock. When I forgot to breathe, when I stopped listening to anyone, his voice was there in my ear telling me what to do, telling me how good I was doing. He breathed long breaths against my cheek until I felt them and started to breathe with him.

Just once I heard him give a glimpse of his own overwhelmed heart: “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry you have to go through this.” I clutched onto this with relief. I wasn’t imagining it – this was insanely hard.

**

Finally I was told it was safe to start pushing and I entered a whole new level of hard. Our doctor came in and after a few contractions they caught my attention – they were concerned I was about to tear badly and thought they might need to make a small cut. That was when I finally said it outloud – I’m scared.

I’d reached down and felt my baby’s head inside me, but I had no understanding of just how close I was. It was all consuming. But with that next push, suddenly she came out all in one go.

“Look, your baby is here!” I heard. I opened my eyes and saw this curled body floating under the water. She was placed on my chest, the warm towel wrapped over her, all grey and sticky and chubby and ours.

It was all I could say. “This is our baby. This is our baby.” The weight of her in my arms was so incredibly real, she was so overwhelmingly here.

She was very calm, none of the wailing I was expecting. She just lay close to me, looking confused and a little startled.

They drained the tub and helped me back into our room across the hall – handing her to Rasmus, skin to skin, for those few metres before I got her back again. I delivered the placenta and they wrapped us up and left the three of us to it.

There we stayed for the next two hours, my girl warm against my skin, calm and sleepy, not at all hungry, although she suckled a little.

“What’s her name?” our midwife asked. “Kaya. Her name is Kaya.”

Later we weighed her and dressed her and they wheeled us upstairs to our bedroom where we’d spend the next three days getting to know each other. Amazingly, I’d not needed an episiotimy in the end and I’d not torn either.

**

The next day, as we sat watching our wee girl sleeping, it all came tumbling out.

“I’m sorry,” I told him, “I’m sorry I wasn’t braver. I’m sorry I was such a failure. I was so loud, I couldn’t relax, forgot to breathe…”

He interrupted me. “You were brave. You were fierce. You’re a warrior!”

**

It’s taken me a lot of time to realise he was right. As I confided in friends, they told me off for thinking I was weak, for imagining I had failed. They retold the birth to me: I had a natural water birth, in twelve hours, without any tearing and no pain relief. “You’re a superwoman!” one friend exclaimed.

The problem, as always, was my expectations. And for that I felt naive, and then misled. I started googling and found whole message boards filled with confused women who’d attempted a hypnobirth and felt like they’d failed. I was angry for a while, mostly because I felt ashamed of having fallen for it.

Now, I have a more nuanced view. The hypnobirthing classes we took had some big benefits. We understood the birthing process so well. Rasmus felt empowered to be my partner through the birth and his confidence was absolutely vital for me. And those first six hours at home – I don’t think I’d have made it so long without the relaxation exercises, even if it was hard work.

And crucially, I was not afraid during my pregnancy. So many of the pregnant women I met in prenatal yoga or church were fearful of how hard it would be. And maybe it was naivety, but I am grateful for that protection.

**

I found some other voices online that gave me comfort and a better perspective, and helped me reclaim our birth experience as good.

“One windy April day, our daughter was born; or rather, I birthed her. Of course, Chris helped me. But my doula friend pointed out to me that we often say, “my child was born.” Birth deserves more than passive language because it is not a passive act. It deserves all the animal sounds that emerge from a woman when she has to open and push a baby into the world.”Molly Caro May

“But let me tell you – I’ve seen babies being born, and I’ve tried to live out a dream, and none of them come into being without labor. There are contractions, and there is what seems an impossibility, and there is blood. Just when the birth is closest, the fear is greatest. Just when you think it will never happen, the midwife says those words…“Give us another good push,” she says, and I wonder where that calm voice is coming from – another world, perhaps. Another universe. Maile responds, and out slips a bundle of bones and displaced joints and skin and then it’s coming together into the form of a child. The cord is purple and red and the consistency of rubber. They are attached, the mother and the baby. They always will be.”Shawn Smucker

“One friend is an experienced midwife whose home water birth felt like she was being torn apart in the process and she worried that she wouldn’t be able to handle being with labouring women ever again. It took some time, but she was able to process her experience and it increased her capacity for empathy when her clients were in the throes of labour. She knew how close they felt to death in those moments, how they were not being dramatic or weak but were facing some of the greatest pain that humans can experience.”Becca at Exile Fertility

These voices, these stories, they helped me re-experience Kaya’s birth as a good experience. Incredibly hard, and so intense, but good.

Here’s what I hope: I hope that more women might be empowered to try for a natural birth without fear like I was. But I hope that we can find the language, the approach, that creates true expectations. Some women do get that incredible calm, pain-free birth. Most don’t. And I think that needs to be ok.

I think we need to be able to tell each other, you can do this, you were created to do this incredibly hard thing, you and your baby. It will require incredible effort and you will draw on every ounce of strength you possess. But you will come through it somehow, by the grace of God and the wonders of your own body.

Giving birth is a defining moment, one that is made only more precious because not every woman who desires it gets to experience it. And not every birth goes to plan. I believe that birth is always “natural”, even if it comes with the help of an epidural or c-section. But I also believe it must be possible to be realistic about how hard it is without becoming fearful and giving up before we’ve even begun.

Last week a wise person told me, God is eternal, and therefore he is still present in our past. The last six months he’s been calling to me from that incredible day last June, telling my story a different way, calling me Brave, and Warrior, and Fierce.

And my memories have been redeemed. I don’t apologise any more. I’m banishing the fear and the shame. Instead, I remember love – Rasmus’ love for me, my love for my girl – that love that carried me through to the moment I first said, “This is our baby”.

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A year of dwelling.

January 13, 2015

The thing I am discovering, through this practice of choosing one word – or rather, allowing one word to choose me – is that rarely does it turn out how I expected. That first year, when I chose Brave, I thought it was going to be about finding courage in a new country to make […]

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right now – December

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My dear sweet Kaya, Today you are six months old. I joke that we planned your arrival perfectly to be halfway to Christmas, but the reality is we’d been waiting and hoping for you for long enough that we didn’t really care what date you arrived. Today you were up early as usual, talking loudly […]

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Kaya’s Dedication

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At the beginning of December, Kaya was dedicated at our church here in Luxembourg. It was a special day, to give thanks for her life and promise ourselves to raising her with love and grace, to teach her about the love and grace we have received from our Creator. I wrote the text for the […]

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the spiritual practice of getting lost

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I have found things while I was lost that I might never have discovered if I had stayed on the path… Anything can become a spiritual practice once you are willing to approach it that way – once you let it bring you to your knees and show you what is real, including who you […]

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right now – autumn

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I’ve had this draft sitting in my account for the last three months. No kidding. Time goes so fast and yet so slowly these days. Kaya is five months old. It’s still a whirlwind of emotions, this motherhood journey, but I also start to see the leaves settling at the edges where the wind is […]

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All the Saints

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I was scheduled to preach the sermon at our church on 2nd November – All Souls Day. I was pretty excited about it. It was coming together well, words jumping out of the pages as I dug through my Bible to excavate the message I was hearing snatches of. The passage to be read that […]

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Love is patient

September 15, 2014

Life slows down radically when you have a newborn to care for. She takes her time to eat. She takes her time to be rocked to sleep. When she’s in the mood for playing, her games are slow too – the same funny face or little movement over and over again. Dressing her is slow, […]

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