Photo by Jeanneatte Breward.
We talk all about our postpartum experiences during the Covid-19 Pandemic.
End of the World by Great Big Sea
Across the Night by Silverchair (Rockabye Baby version)
Photo by Jeanneatte Breward.
We talk all about our postpartum experiences during the Covid-19 Pandemic.
End of the World by Great Big Sea
Across the Night by Silverchair (Rockabye Baby version)
all locally in Northumberland County!
Featured Tunes by:
A Wilhelm Scream
(Wilhelm) Richard Wagner
Photo by Jeannette Breward
Content warning: birth, change in birth plan, failed induction, caesarean section, surgery, previous miscarriage, placenta (including picture of my placenta at the end)
I’d planned for a totally natural water-birth at home with my team of midwives, a doula, and my partner with our gentle shepherd dog looking onward. I had read about orgasmic births on Ina May’s farm and which essential oils were best for birth and the benefits of salt lamps and yoga balls. I arranged my birth pool rental and for my placenta to be encapsulated and wrote things like seeding and delayed cord clamping into my birth plan, which I printed out and secured in the binder the midwives gave me to keep at home with my charts and information for after the baby was born along with instructions on how to contact the woman who was to encapsulate my placenta and a phone tree with the phone numbers of family and close friends and who was responsible for each call. In the weeks leading up to my due date, I ate spicy food, had lots of sex, walked my dog for hours up and down steep hills, walked the stairs in my building repeatedly (note: these aren’t easy things to do with a 70+ pound weight gain…), took evening primrose oil, drank a ton of raspberry leaf tea, made art, and wrote affirmations about trusting my body and welcoming my baby.
Then, my due date came and went. I wasn’t too stressed initially, two of my close friends who had given birth within the past year had both gone 10 days over their due dates and I knew that, statistically, something like 60% of first time birthing people went over their estimated due dates. But once I was officially 41 weeks, with my induction scheduled, I started to feel stressed out. I knew I didn’t want an induction and I resented the fact that my baby was already being forced to adhere to some schedule without a medically relevant reason. Sure, there is an increase in some risk factors (including stillbirth) associated with going past 41 or 42 weeks, but my ultrasound and nonstress test showed a happy, healthy baby who we expected to be a bit on the larger side. As the threat of medical induction loomed, I drank two doses of midwife’s brew, a concoction containing apricot juice, castor oil, almond butter, and a strong infusion of lemon verbena. Although I had multiple friends tell me to prepare to go into labour shortly after taking the drink, as they had, it did absolutely nothing to help bring on my labour.
After a long conversation with my doula and an even longer one with my partner about options and how to navigate balancing advocating for my dream home birth with my midwives and their concerns, I decided to go into the hospital, as instructed, at 41+5, to receive a medication that would make my cervix more favourable (I’d been stuck at 1cm dilated for a couple weeks already with no forward motion) in hope that when I went home, I’d be able to relax a bit more and dilate my way into having my home birth after all. I was technically scheduled to continue the induction process (with the midwife breaking my water and starting me on Pitocin) the next day, but I was hoping I’d be able to avoid that part.
When I got to the hospital, I had a long conversation with the patient OB who had followed me throughout my first trimester (due to a history of recurrent miscarriage) and he explained his concerns with me not giving birth within the next few days. He pulled up a chair and took time to answer all of my questions and heard me out about about my concerns. By the end of the conversation, I honestly believe that he was committed to supporting me and my team in achieving as much of my birth plan as possible and that a bit of medical assistance was warranted in this situation. The first step remained what I had already decided I felt okay about doing- the medication in my cervix to increase its favourability. I also opted to stay in the hospital for the night and to reconsider my home birth. The extra couple of days increased the risks for my baby and, at this point, that was my only real priority. I also knew by that point, although I didn’t say it out loud, that the medication was unlikely to work. Something was causing my cervix not to dilate and I just felt, like, SO deeply, that it wasn’t going to budge.
The medication was super uncomfortable. I started cramping, and by the time my partner my doula, and I went out for dinner, I was feeling pretty awful. I hoped this meant that I was wrong and that it was working. The next morning, when they checked my cervix, it hadn’t changed at all since the day before. As per my discussion with the OB, he agreed to administer a second type of medication meant to achieve the same result- one that my midwife said tended to work better in her experience. Six hours later, my midwife attempted to check me and, this time the check was so painful I screamed. My cervix still hadn’t changed, it was still so far back she could barely reach it and now so irritated, the extreme discomfort I normally experienced during cervical checks had become a searing pain that terrified me far more than the idea of labour itself. My midwife decided to check in with the OB to discuss possible next steps and came back within a few minutes to explain that neither of them felt comfortable moving forward with the induction as we had planned it, but that at 41 weeks and 6 days pregnant, my pregnancy was too high risk for them to feel comfortable with it continuing. I was presented with two options:
I was scared. All I wanted was my baby safely in my arms and I didn’t feel that continuing to put my body through an extended course of failed intervention was particularly respectful to it. There’s also something incredibly emotionally exhausting about your body repeatedly reacting poorly to failed methods of induction, both natural and medical. I started to cry and asked the midwife if my partner and I could have a few minutes to discuss what we were going to do. We talked about the options, and my partner brought up that his main concern was me feeling sad or disappointed in straying so far from my original birth plan, and I explained to him that, at this point, the game had changed and I felt good about adjusting my expectations. I explained my feelings about something going on with my cervix that we didn’t understand and not wanting anything else to be stuck in it and also that I felt that, for this reason, this birth was going to end up in cesarean whether I continued to put my body through the induction process or not. I tearfully phoned my doula and talked through the situation with her and she, along with my partner, supported my decision to do what I needed to do to emotionally process the change in plans and to shift my mindset around how my baby was going to enter this world.
We told the midwife that I was going to opt in for the cesarean section, and within an hour I was being taken through paperwork, given information by my midwife, by the OB, by the amazing nurse, and by the anesthesiologist, who told me he would be putting a spinal block in so I wouldn’t feel the procedure at all but would be fully awake. I signed the papers, and got to hug my doula before I was taken to the OR and the spinal block was administered.
Everyone in the OR was amazing, casually talking about their weekend while checking in and communicating with me every single step of the way. At some point, I started to cry…not because I was sad as much as because I was a crazy mix of scared for both my body and my baby’s body and also because I was just so physically and emotionally exhausted from the past few days- no- from the past week since my pregnancy had changed to increase in risk each day. My midwife checked in and asked if I was okay, and I said “yes” unable in that moment to explain to her exactly what was going on for me. My partner came into the room (I learned later that when the anesthesiologist had gone to get him, he had warned him that I was pretty emotional) and didn’t need to ask me any questions- he knew exactly where I was at emotionally. He was confused about how violently my body was shaking though, until the anesthesiologist explained that it was from adrenaline. My partner stood right by my head and the procedure began. The midwife and anesthesiologist talked me through the whole thing, though I remember very little of what they actually said.
When they cut me open, they were surprised at how much I bled and I remember the midwife warning me there was a lot of fluid and there was going to be a lot of the sound of suctioning going on. My blood pressure got very high (unusual for me, whose baseline blood pressure is barely that of a conscious person) and also dropped very low at certain points, so the anesthesiologist kept having to give me medications to alter it. The team asked my partner if he wanted to see our baby come out of my body, and he asked me if that was okay with me. I said, “of course”, and he excitedly peaked over the curtain to see our baby be taken out of my body, head and one arm first, and then the rest of him. I heard him cry, and thought with relief, “that’s the most beautiful sound I’ve ever heard”. Someone held him up above the curtain and I saw his screaming, bunched up, red face and thought, “there you are” and “who ARE you” and “holy shit, there WAS a human in there”! This abstract thought that was my “rainbow baby”, who I was almost afraid to believe, even until the end, would ever be here, was real after all. He was here. After almost two years of pregnancies, three miscarriages, and a day short of 42 weeks with this being growing inside my body, I could barely believe it. Wilhelm Erik Warmland was born at 6:27pm on March 2, 2020, weighing 7lbs 15.6 oz at 20.5 inches long.
The midwife placed him on my chest and I held this being who I knew so intimately and it was completely surreal. After a few minutes, the midwife asked if my partner wanted to do some skin-to-skin as well while they finished closing me up. My partner asked if I was okay with that and I said, “of course”. I just wanted one of us to be with him. They went back to my hospital room and I joined them shortly after. I held my baby and didn’t let him go for hours. My dad and brother came to meet him and eventually my partner did more skin to skin and my brother went out to get us food and then he did skin to skin with his long-awaited nephew while we ate. My friend came and took gorgeous photographs of our first hours together.
The woman who was encapsulating my placenta was on route, so my doula reminded me that I could ask my midwife for a “placenta tour”, which I had mentioned being interested in. When she did this, she noticed that my placenta contained an extra lobe with veins. This can happen when the pregnancy started out as a twin pregnancy, though I also wonder if it could be related to my previous miscarriages, including an early miscarriage I had the cycle before conceiving Wilhelm. It turns out this can cause issues with bleeding if it’s ruptured during the process of water breaking and often results in cesarean section, which validates my decision to stray from my birth plan. This wasn’t the only extraordinary thing about Wilhelm’s birth though. In spite of being almost 2 full weeks “late”, he had vernix on him and there was tons of clear, meconium-free amniotic fluid. There was also no calcification of my uterus at all. My body knew. I kept saying I knew I could trust my body, and it turns out I was right. It just didn’t look the way I expected it would.
Photo by Jeannette Breward
We talk all about:
– How Lee got into art
– Art as therapy
– What made her choose to “go public” with her art over the last few years
– What small town life means to her and why it’s important to make an impact
– Being a single mom to her very different kids
– How Lee’s work keeps her well
– Her new studio opening up on John Street in Port Hope
Check out my conversation with Katie Hoogandam!
We talk about:
– her writing, including her chapbook, “Mothertongue” (to get a copy, email Katie at email@example.com or pick it up at The Black Cat Cafe or Let’s Talk Books
– Katie’s old radio show on Northumberland 89.7
– her play, “Plan X“, which is featured in Spirit of the Hills Festival of the Arts 2019!
– motherhood, sexuality, staying well
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about unpaid labour and care work.
My experience with care work started when my mother was dying and I felt compelled- by myself, by my family, and by society in general, to prioritize my young life around caring for her. I used to go with her to chemo appointments, I’d sit with her in her bed and sing to her while she suffered, and I tried to pick up some of the things she’d done before she got sick. With help from my aunts and uncles, my dad and I became a care team. But I was only fourteen, and I didn’t have the capacity to balance that work with forming an identity outside of that. It was all consuming. I stopped playing music and doing theatre. I did well enough in school, but didn’t care to immerse myself fully in anything academically, even though I may have been inclined to. I held down a part time job and did well at it, but it wasn’t my focus. My whole life became care work.
When I fell desperately in love at only eighteen, I did what I had learned to do best: I cared for him. I worked hard to build a life where I’d be able to contribute enough financially and emotionally to support him while he lived his dreams of being a professional musician. I went to school and volunteered with a feminist organization and provided a lot of financial and emotional support for survivors of gender-based violence through fundraising and community outreach. When my friends were struggling with the stress of school or relationships or parents, I was the first one to drop everything I was doing to be there for them. When my partner wanted to move to a small, rural town where he’d grown up, I agreed. After all, I liked the idea of living in a small, artsy town. I liked the idea of building a life where we could raise a family, engage with our hobbies, and maintain humble but generally fulfilling careers.
When we moved, I quickly realized that my single undergraduate degree wasn’t going to get me far in the field I had dreamt of working in. It turns out, social work is a lot more about following government guidelines than actually actively caring for people. In this community, I fought my way into a grassroots charity organization where I attempted to use my creativity and advocacy experience in a way that met their mandate. I attempted this work for years, and when paid opportunities came up, they were never for me. I worked with a few counselling and direct support agencies for minimum wage with no benefits or support, but it wasn’t sustainable physically, emotionally, or financially. I managed a multi-million dollar company for a couple dollars over minimum wage for a few years until I requested some reasonable disability-related accommodations the company refused to meet. So I started working with another multi-million dollar company where I was paid less than what I’d been promised in the interview and was sexually harassed to the point where I no longer felt comfortable making the forty minute commute to be paid $16 an hour.
During this time, I volunteered in my community theatre company and volunteered at a radio station pushing boundaries with a show that addressed topics relating to discrimination, empowerment, recovery, and care. I initiated an annual rally against gender-based violence in my community. I advocated for equality at a municipal level and became a go-to outreach support person for women in my community. And all of this went unpaid.
As I make the transition to motherhood, which has, naturally, been an arduous process, I’m reflecting a lot on my priorities, on where I’m placing my energy, on where I’m at in my life and what this transition means for me in terms of my future. I’m realizing that my failed career paths come down to the fact that, in a world of Bell Let’s Talk days, the society I live in isn’t one that prioritizes active care.
We want to say, “I’m always here to talk with you”, but we rarely know how to practice the kind of active care or advocacy that is required to make a change in a person’s life, and when we do, that work isn’t sustainable under the rule of capitalism. That kind of work doesn’t lead to job opportunities, it doesn’t lead to being able to pay our rent or buy our groceries. It’s no surprise that mental health is poor for almost everyone or that we live in a culture that is deeply traumatized as a baseline. We’re all just trying to make it month to month, day by day.
As a pregnant, disabled woman, I’m in a position where my career won’t be prioritized the same way for quite some time. While I grow this human, while I give birth and attempt to heal my body, while I feed and raise my son, I know from my past experience mothering (because, let’s face it, I’ve been mothering since I was fourteen years old) and from the experiences of mothers around me: this will be all-consuming. So how do I meet the demands of capitalism as a woman who has dedicated her life to unpaid care work so far when I push that boundary further?
When I was a little girl,
I lived in a house with a big garden
that gently sloped into a ravine.
Across the water, lived a willow tree
and when my brother and I
followed the stream against the current,
it lead to an open field full of
huge rocks- islands to our childminds
and we swore the water there was magic.
When mom got sick,
I used to walk up stream to
sit, skinny legs folded up against my chest,
smoke cigarettes, let the stream that
has held me my entire life
hold me then
I questioned a lot then, but never that the water
And when she died,
I planted a tree beside her grave
one with purple flowers
like the ones in her garden
like the ones on the kitchen table
passed down from her mother to her
the ones that died when she did
because I’ve never been great with houseplants
but I know a few things about putting down roots.
When I grew up to experience
the first bookend loss,
I drove to Lake Ontario
just like she would have done
and scoured the shore
for a jar full of lake glass
and with my own hope for comfort,
the kind I’ve always felt
rooted in water,
I almost forgot to listen
to the messages she sent through the lake-
Something about collecting and purging
what fills her without any control of her own.
So when the second bookend loss came,
it was waterless winter ice
and it’s taken until spring to thaw
and I can’t help but think that maybe
if I stop
might find that I can
to the elements that have held me my whole life
and maybe by feeling held,
I can hold her too.
I’ve been listening to poetry
For hours trying to find
Something that feels as familiar
As you did the first time you
Introduced me to the static
Of this world that mid summer
You were like a Friday evening
And I was Saturday morning
You looked at me like I was
The best choice you had ever made
So when I celebrate you on
This day I am tied to
With the roots of your arteries
On this harvest moon
I’ll hold you at the helm
Of the care that you gave me
While I hear the echo of your
Heeled shoes through the sound
Of the still static.
Sometimes, it feels like I’m losing you all over again. While I mourned for the mother I had as a child, as I grow into an adult, I am realizing that there is a whole other aspect to this loss. I have never mourned for the person I never had the privilege of knowing. My adult self never knew your adult self. My perception of you as a person, through the eyes of a little girl, could not have possibly been accurate or well-rounded, and as I grow, and I see my friends with their children, I know that this is true.
Playing such a heavy role in your care while you were sick skewed my perception even further. I was young enough that I don’t even remember you. I don’t remember how your voice sounds (that drives me crazy). I don’t know if you would have condoned many of the choices I’ve made over the past nine years- I don’t even know if you would have liked the person I’ve grown into.
As I’ve watched many of my friends make choices about boundaries in their adult lives with their parents- and as I’ve made my own choices about the boundaries I have with my living parent- I find myself mourning the loss of that choice. The choice to have a relationship with you.
As I watch my friends have children, and as I think about it abstractly, I mourn the fact that you will never meet any one-day child of mine, you will never be there to support me while I go through the process of bringing a human being into the world or raising them. One thing I remember about you, is that you loved being a mother. I think that I will one day too. I wish we could have shared that.
I wish we could have shared a lot of things.
I wish you could have met my partner. I wish you could have seen me graduate- and told me that I should just go straight to grad school instead of putting it off. I wish you could help me pick out clothes for work (my idea of professional attire isn’t exactly the most well-rounded). I wish you could help me paint my apartment, and try out that new lunch spot with me, and warn me about that friend who you KNEW wouldn’t be worth my energy in the end. I wish you were there to answer all my questions about how long to cook chicken breasts or how to shave my legs without razor burn.
But I didn’t have you around then, and I still don’t now. I have raised myself since I was fourteen years old, and while I felt lost for a long time, I’m found now. I found myself, no one did it for me. I did the work. I cared for myself. I nurtured myself. Not gracefully, but successfully none the less. I have been my own mother.
But I also know that would break your heart, because another thing I remember about you is that you never wanted me to feel lost of alone or that I had to mother myself. So sometimes, when I miss you the most, I wrap myself in the quilt the hospital gave you and I breathe in a decade’s worth of missing the you I’ll never get to know.