.Deirdre here... Today is Siobhan's 4th birthday, so I have a special post to make in honor of her and her life, which we are celebrating today as a family. There is quite a story behind her birth (as there is behind every birth!), so I am sharing this with you today.
There are few topics that interest me more than natural childbirth. I remember even before I was married, my sister and I watched the birth documentary "The Business of Being Born." As soon as I got pregnant with Siobhan, I immediately went to Barnes and Noble and bought Ina Mae Gaskin's "Guide to Natural Childbirth." I poured over the birth stories in that book. I continue to be obsessed and love hearing birth stories anywhere - in books, in person, on videos, on blogs, ... So, this page is for you kindred spirits you share the same wonder and fascination with birth!
Growing up, my mom birthed all six of her children naturally, all at home except the first, who was born in a birthing center. Her mother also had six children naturally, during a time that was much less common. My Mom's sister had three children naturally too, so that is the birth context I was raised with. When it came time to have my own children, this context, together with an irrational phobia of hospitals, gave me no hesitation about having a natural birth at home.
At first, I was not sure if I wanted to use the same midwife my Mom had used, or if I wanted to strike out on my own. After we got pregnant with Siobhan, Max and I had a preliminary consultation with my mom's midwife Mary. We completely loved her, and decided right there to have her be our midwife.
I am sharing this story for all moms, but especially those who, like me, had a particularly challenging birth experience. Siobhan's birth was The. Hardest. Thing. I. Ever. Did. By. Far. After her birth, I had no idea how I could ever choose to go through that again. I have a lot of difficult memories that took a lot of working through. Having come out on the other side however, I can say that this traumatic event started me on a path to self-discovery of my strengths and weaknesses. It was the beginning of a journey that taught me what I was lacking in life, and what I needed to do to feel fully empowered as a human being. That journey culminated in the birth of our second child, Declan. More to come on that story later, but the bottom line is that every experience, no matter how hard, can be viewed either in a negative light, or as an opportunity to grow. Although it seemed impossible at the time, I have chosen to grow from this experience, and I want to share this to help others in the same space to do the same thing. The effort that I put into dealing with the issues I discovered following my first birth led to the most amazing birth ever the second time... short, simple, relatively pain free, and not scary. The change in myself was truly amazing, and after the first birth I did not believe that was possible. I have changed a lot since then. Although this is not the path I would have chosen voluntarily, it was the path given me, and I am trying to make the most of it!
So, thank you Siobhan for starting me on this important journey! It would not have happened without you! Happy Birthday! I love you!
The following is essentially a verbatim transcript of my journal entry made one week after Siobhan's birth.
Journal Entry January 28th, 2013
Our little baby girl, Siobhan, was born one week ago on January 21st.
Beginning about five days before she was born, Max and I took walks in the hills above our town in order to help get labor going. I was so impatient to have the baby since I was totally unable to think about anything else and was so uncomfortable.
My due date was January 21st and I secretly hoped that baby would be born early but didn't dare to actually hope that since I didn't want to be disappointed when it didn't happen then. My realistic (or maybe more like pessimistic) side thought that it would probably be born a week late, January 27th, since that was the full moon nearest my due date and babies seem to come out at the full moon. It wasn't until a visit with my midwife that I began to think that maybe baby would come on time. She told us that if my due date were in fact correct then baby would probably come around then. We knew that it was totally accurate so I began to wonder if it would be born on or near the 21st.
Beginning on the 16th (my sister's birthday) I was totally consumed with wanting to give birth. I was beginning to have more regular braxton hicks contractions and by Saturday, the 19th, things definitely felt different. I taught a few violin lessons that morning and in the evening, Max and I went thriftstore shopping, went out to eat at a natural foods cafe, and then took a night time walk on the pier as huge waves crashed under our feet.
The next day was my brother's birthday and we had been invited to my family's house for a birthday brunch. I was concerned whether or not we should come since I didn't want to go into labor at my family's house and that seemed like a real possibility. (We wanted to keep the labor private and not tell anyone that baby was born until it had already happened.) But we ended up going and nothing happened there. After brunch, we took a drive on a bumpy country road to try to induce labor and then followed that with a walk in the hills above our town. On that walk we met a couple who had a little baby. We ended up talking and found out that we had the same midwife and also that this couple had walked the same road the day that she had gone into labor! We hoped that this road would give us the same luck.
After dinner that evening, we took another walk, this time downtown. That was around 9 pm. On the way out the door my dear friend, Margaret, happened to stop by and we told her that this might be the real thing! I was feeling really crampy and the contractions were starting to be regular. But I still didn't dare to hope that this was really labor. Being rather pessimistic, I thought that it would probably stop and just be prelabor. When we got home we went to bed but I couldn't sleep. I just had to run to the bathroom every few minutes. It felt like my body was trying to empty everything out of it except the baby! I would try to get comfortable but couldn't because I felt so horrible. I would lie on my side but then a contraction would come and I had to get on all fours and roll myself into a ball to cope with the pain. The contractions felt like a gigantic pressure in my bottom.
Around 3 AM, Max asked me if we should call the midwife, Mary. I was really afraid to bother her in the middle of the night in case this wasn't labor yet at the same time, I didn't know what labor felt like and did not want to handle this without her if it was actually labor. At least she should know how I felt. It was definitely scary to have Max call her, it made it feel so real! Max called and she didn't answer! That was a bit nerve wracking. Max waited a few minutes and then called her again. This time she answered. She said she would be over soon and suggested that in the meantime I should get in the shower to relieve the pain. I was more than eager to find some relief so immediately got into the shower and stayed there until Mary arrived. The shower slowed the contractions down a bit and relieved the pain so that when Mary arrived I felt a bit embarrassed that I would seem too fine and she'd tell me that I was not in labor. Once out of the shower, Mary checked me and informed us that I was barely dilated, which was embarrassing and discouraging.
She said that we needed to sleep since we hadn't slept at all yet and needed to have energy for the work ahead. The next few hours were the best part of the labor. Mary had a magic touch that gave me the ability to relax enough to sleep! She sat in the chair next to our bed and talked in a gentle calm voice, talking me through relaxing and accepting the contractions which were actually helping baby to come out. She helped me to breathe and relax during the contractions instead of freaking out and tightening. This relaxed state allowed us to sleep for a few hours!
The next time that Mary checked me I was 3 cm dilated. It was morning now and Mary had a midwifery meeting scheduled for that morning and asked if it would be ok if she left us to attend the meeting since it didn't look like the birth was immanent. Mary's assistant, Ronda, came over while Mary was gone. She had driven over to Mary's house in the middle of the night and had spent the night there to be close for my birth.
While Mary was gone, I spent the morning just trying to cope with the contractions. I tried lying in bed, kneeling with my head on the bed or couch, rolling into a ball on the floor, and walking outside in the backyard. I was excited to try walking outside. It always sounded so romantic in Ina May's birth stories when the mamas would walk outside and get in touch with the natural world. But the real thing was totally different. I just felt horrible and couldn't appreciate the world at all.
Sometime during this time, my mucous plug came out which was encouraging. Ronda checked me and realized that the baby was facing backwards which isn't harmful for the baby but makes the contractions way more intense and felt in your back and bottom. She tried turning the baby around by wrapping a scarf around my waist and moving it back and forth. That felt horrible! I just wanted to get into the birth tub but wasn't supposed to get in until at least 5 cm dilated so that the relaxation from the warm water didn't stall labor. Ronda checked me again and I was between 5-6 cm dilated! I was so grateful to be able to get into the tub. By this point I was really really uncomfortable. The tub was really helpful although not relaxing as one might imagine after watching vidoes of laboring women in birth tubs. It most certainly did not feel like a relaxing hot tub experience which was what I wished it felt like! I was so exhausted that I was almost falling asleep between the contractions and Max put a pot upside down in the tub with a wash cloth on it to help support my head while I lay there.
I ended up being in the tub for 2-3 hours and I was there when Mary came back. I switched back and forth from lying on my side with my head on the pot to being on all fours. I think Mary checked me again but I am not sure. Things felt totally out of control at that point. I remember wondering when transition was going to come but I never knew when it exactly happened. The contractions got totally unbearable and then I felt the baby in the birth canal. It felt so horrible! There was so much pressure and it felt awful to have a body in my birth canal. I was crying and saying "Ow! Ow!" and just saying how much it hurt.
Mary checked me and said I was 10 cm dilated. She told me it was time to push. That was when I really began to yell and moan. The pain was worse than I could imagine one could feel without already being dead! 40 minutes before the birth, my water broke and the membrane was the first thing to come out. Mary told me to reach down and feel the membrane in order to refocus on pushing but I was too scared and it burned too much. I felt it though and it felt bizarre! The pushing was just unbearable, totally beyond what I could imagine pain to be.
During this time, I was in such pain and mentally so out of control and worn out that it was never clear to me what was going on exactly. Every so often Mary or Ronda would place the fetal monitor on my uterus and check the baby's heart rate. I started to realize that they were getting concerned and kept checking the heart rate again. Mary told me that I needed to push harder and longer but I couldn't. I remember that I was lying on my back with my legs spread apart and Max and Mary were taking turns holding my head up out of the water. It hurt to push because my leg kept cramping up. I started to feel like I couldn't breathe. I never felt like I reached another world or lost consciousness. On the other hand, I felt totally present and the pain was unbearable! At last the top of baby's head was out!
And things felt really urgent. Mary said that I needed to get out of the tub to deliver the baby. I didn't really realize what was going on. I just knew that it felt horrible to get up out of the water and climb out of the tub with a baby just about to come out! I stepped onto the ottoman and then reclined back on the couch. Mary told me to feel the baby's head. It was a head full of black hair! I didn't even realize what was happening but Mary quickly cut my perineum in order to get the baby out immediately. I didn't even feel her cutting me! I gave two more pushes. With the first push, baby's head came all the way out. With the second push, baby came out! (Supposedly, Mary needed to give me an episiotomy because my tissue just wouldn't stretch open enough. Also, I just couldn't push long or hard enough. I simply didn't have enough energy. Before baby was actually out, Mary had told Ronda to have the oxygen ready. It was all so quick and urgent feeling, almost panicky, but not.) As soon as the baby was out, Mary almost threw her onto my stomach. That was the first time I saw her. She was totally blue - that was terrifying!
The next 10 minutes are a blur and I think that I was rather out of it. Mary was giving her oxygen and doing mouth to mouth resuscitation. Mary was telling me to tell the baby that we loved her and wanted her to live. I didn't have time to see what gender it was - nor did I have time to care. I remember Mary calling it a "she" and I thought "It's a girl" but there was no time to be happy about that. All that mattered was that she breathed and lived. Max implored me to pray. It was so traumatic!
After 4 minutes of Mary trying to help the baby to breathe she told Max to call 911. He did and the paramedics came 4 minutes later. Things were and are still a blur during this time. All that I can remember is that Mary was trying to get baby to breathe. I remember thinking that I needed to be detached - this was a good try but maybe the baby wasn't going to make it. I wasn't able to be excited about our baby since she might not live. I remember being shocked how blue she was and I remember looking at her head and noticing that one of her ears seemed deformed. Liquid was coming out of baby's nose (or mouth?) when Mary would breathe into her. I had this empty detached feeling that this might be the end of the baby's life.
When the paramedics arrived, after 4 minutes, they seemed in control and matter of fact in a reassuring way. They asked what had happened and asked for the baby's name. Max told them "Siobhan." (We had decided that, if baby was a girl, she would be named"Siobhan" months before, so Max immediately told them that name.) Mary had not yet cut Siobhan's umbilical cord so the paramedics cut it. They brought in a stretcher and lifted me onto to it with the baby on my stomach. I remember feeling so bad for our neighbors who live just on the other side of our wall in the other half of our duplex. They must have heard all my yells and moans! And now here were two police cars and an ambulance in the road!
Siobhan and I rode in the back of the ambulance while Max rode up front. Mary had to stay behind and she didn't join us at the hospital until Max called her from there. When we arrived at out town's small hospital, they brought us on the stretcher into the Emergency Room. I don't remember the order of events well but I know that they took Siobhan from me and weighed and measured her and then the doctor came in and checked her. If I remember correctly, she had begun breathing on her own in the ambulance. At that point, I think she seemed okay and that gave me a big sense of relief. The ambulance had come so soon after I had given birth to Siobhan that I hadn't delivered the placenta yet and didn't until at the hospital, although I had contractions in the ambulance and felt the urge to push it out then. I spent the entire time at the hospital lying on my back in the bed there. Eventually Max asked if Siobhan could be put back on my stomach so I got to have her again. While we were at that hospital, the doctors and nurses arranged for us to be transferred to a bigger hospital in the city 20 minutes away. Our small hospital didn't have a maternity ward and they wanted Siobhan to be put into a NICU until things stabilized. We signed the papers for transferring to this hospital. (It was only after the fact that we realized that maybe we didn't want or need to go there.)
Mary arrived at our town's hospital after Max called her and told her where we had been sent, (we hadn't known where we were going when we left home). It was so hard not to have had Mary there for a while so it was such a relief when she came. It was when she arrived and we began discussing options for the next step that we realized that transferring to the next hospital might not have been the best plan. Mary told us that they usually want to keep babies in the NICU for three days before allowing them to go home. Unfortunately, it was too late to change our plans. (One of the nurses, who happened to be a midwife also, confided to us that we could just tell the ambulance to take us home instead of to the next hospital. But she also told us that they could take our baby away from us if we did that.) So we really had no choice but to go to the next hospital.
It was at our town's hospital that we first called our families to tell them that we'd had our baby and inform them briefly what had happened. We probably would not have thought of calling them yet but I wanted to save my placenta to encapsulate it and the only way I could keep it was to have someone pick it up and take it home for me or else the hospital would dispose it immediately. My mom was the first person we thought of to pick it up. Max called her and she came immediately with my younger brother, Patrick. I'm sure it was terrifying for my mom to hear what had happened and for her to come to the ER to see me and meet baby. When she came in, Siobhan was still lying on my stomach. She got to see her and then picked up the placenta and offered to get things that we needed from home and drive our truck to the next hospital.
The ambulance came for us to transfer to the bigger hospital after a few hours of being at our town's hospital. Overall, my experience of our town's hospital was that it was quite laid back and personable. The nurse who had delivered my placenta really helped to make it a more positive experience. (Later we realized that she belongs to the same church that we do! and so did one of the paramedics who came to our house right after the birth!)
The drive in the ambulance to the bigger hospital was actually a bit pleasant - if I can call any of the experience pleasant! The paramedics were really nice -- young and a bit tough, but nice too. A young paramedic sat in the back of the ambulance with Siobhan and I and gave me an oxygen device to hold over Siobhan's face. That drive was the first time that I really got to experience Siobhan as an alert little person. Her eyes were open and she was looking around and making sounds but not crying. I remember seeing the ocean as we drove by it and noticing how beautiful it was!
I was rather shocked at my peace and lack of fear with regard to being on ambulance drives and being in the hospital. (My whole life, I have had a phobia of ambulances and hospitals.) I think that everything was so traumatic with the labor and first 20 minutes after the birth that everything that happened afterwards was easier. Also I was so weak and out of it that I didn't have the energy to be worried or angry that we had to be transferred.
When we arrived at the hospital, the paramedics brought Siobhan and I on the stretcher into the ER. The hospital we had gone to first was so much more personable and smaller than this one. This hospital seemed huge and confusing. There were nurses and other staff everywhere and lots of doors and hallways. I remember being worried about all the germs here - we'd just been brought into the ER filled with many patients! At this point, I had to be separate from Siobhan. I forgot to mention that at our town's hospital we had somewhat discussed options as to where to go from there. I could have gone home with Mary to be stitched up from the episiotomy. The problem was that I would have been totally separate from Siobhan. The best plan seemed to have both Siobhan and me enrolled as patients at the bigger hospital. I would get the stitches there while Siobhan was in the NICU. At the first hospital, we had learned who our doctors would be when we transferred. Supposedly the NICU doctor was pretty good but the doctor who would stitch me did not have a good reputation. I was a bit worried about getting stitches but I guess I intuitively knew that there was no point worrying too much because there was no choice. After we had given our names to the ER staff, Max went with Siobhan to the NICU.
Meanwhile, the paramedics wheeled me on the stretcher to the labor ward and brought me to one of the patient rooms. It was really painful when they transferred me from the stretcher to the bed. My physical needs had not been attended too much since the birth other than massaging my uterus after I delivered the placenta. I was wrapped in a mess of bloody sheets and I was covered in blood and sweat and who knows what else. A nurse introduced herself and then proceeded to swap out the old sheets for new ones. I was definitely nervous about what the nurses and doctors would do to me especially since neither Mary nor any family members were with me yet. The nurse said that she would have to take my blood since she had no records for me and knew nothing about me. The nurse then began hooking me up to an I.V. and do other procedures. I was feeling mad that they were just doing all these things to me and wondered if they even knew why I was there. I am virtually sure that someone asked if I had delivered yet!!
When the doctor arrived, the forewarning about him was accurate, unfortunately! He had an arrogant demeanor. He told me that if I had had him as my doctor then I wouldn't have had to get the episiotomy! ( I thought to myself, "Yeah, I would not have had an episiotomy if you were my doctor, I would have had a C section!) He seemed weirded our that I didn't know what time I had given birth to my baby. The doctor numbed the cut area and proceeded to stitch me. I was really scared but luckily it didn't feel like much.
Mary and Ronda came into my room after I had got stitched up. (The contrast between the staff at the hospital vis a vis my midwives was shocking and very clear to me! As soon as Mary and Ronda arrived I felt so cared for and loved. They were so sensitive to me and went so far beyond just attending to my physical needs. The nurses, on the other hand, just went about their routine procedures and didn't really care about me. Experiencing this contrast made me realize how glad I was to have had a home birth even though it had been miserably hard!) Once Mary was there, she was able to give my records to the nurses and that allowed me to bypass the blood test.
Max came up to my room after Mary and Ronda had arrived. He arrived just as the nurse was trying to prick me to draw blood. I was really annoyed that all this stuff was being done to me when all I had come for was to get stitches! When Max arrived that was the first real lull we had felt in hours, ever since I had started laboring! By that point, I was so overwhelmed and tired that I started crying so hard. Max, Mary and Ronda were all so sensitive and kind to me. Mary talked through everything that had happened thus far that day so that I could process and integrate this overwhelming day! It felt really good to cry and get out all my emotions!
About 10 minutes after Max came to my room, my dad arrived. He had picked up dinner for us at Nature's Grill (the same place we had gone out to eat the evening before I went into labor!). I was worried that I wouldn't be able to eat because I thought the I.V. prevented me from eating. Luckily that wasn't true!
My mom and two youngest siblings arrived soon thereafter. I felt so bad for my younger sister because she was feeling so much for me that she didn't want to look at anyone or anything. I know it was so hard for her to see me in such a different atmosphere than we had all been anticipating... at a hospital without my baby! I felt so bad for her especially because it is easier in a way to be the one experiencing the difficulties than to be a helpless onlooker.
Max left after about 45 minutes to return to the NICU to be with Siobhan. Soon thereafter I was transferred to the post partum wing of the hospital. The rest of my family went to the NICU to see Siobhan while I was transferred. They were not allowed to into the NICU but Max was able to show her to my family through a window. I was transferred on a funny scooter like vehicle to my new room. The post partum room was smaller than the labor room, where I'd been stitched up. It was after I'd been transferred that I said good bye to Mary and Ronda. Unfortunately, I didn't feel like I was able to say a real good bye to them - they had sort of just faded into the background ever since we'd left home. That was really sad because, to me, they were the authorities not the doctors and nurses!
As soon as I was settled into the new room, I was able to visit Siobhan in the NICU. The layout of the hospital totally confused me so I was glad that a nurse walked with me to the NICU. The NICU was smaller than I had imagined. There not many babies in it. There was a tiny 3 something pound baby in an incubator across from Siobhan's crib. Max was holding Siobhan behind a curtain like enclosure. This was the first time I had seen Siobhan since she she'd been lying naked on me on the stretcher. It was odd and disappointing to see her dressed by someone else! (I had been so looking forward to dressing baby for the first time and had spent a long time deciding what baby's first outfit would be). She was dressed in a pink striped onesie and was wrapped in a blue and white hospital blanket. The hardest thing was to see her with wires and tape attached to her body. She had a big plastic thing taped to one of her hands so that she couldn't use it and wires on her chest. This made it awkward to hold her because we would get all tangled up!
Max had told the NICU nurses that Siobhan would be breastfed so I attempted to breastfeed her which was a difficult ordeal. I had naively imagined that as soon as you give birth then you immediately produce milk and that it would a simple process. But it wasn't! I felt like I was trying to breastfeed the same way I felt if I had not had a baby - there was just no milk! It felt pointless to try. Eventually a nurse brought a breast pump to try to get milk flowing but we pumped for ages and only got a few drops! It was a very frustrating experience. After trying this for a few hours, we thought it would be overall better if we just slept for a couple hours. It was a hard decision to make because we would have to leave Siobhan by herself but we were exhausted and couldn't sit in chairs all night in the NICU. So we left Siobhan around midnight or 1 AM and walked back to my room. On the way down the hall I almost fainted: as I was walking I got really dizzy and lost my balance then things started to look dark and blurry. A nurse saw me and asked if I was okay, I reassured her that I was fine (even though I wasn't exactly) because I didn't want anyone to do anything else to me or tell me that I wasn't well enough to leave the next morning. So I sat down for a bit and then Max helped me walk to my room. It was no surprise that I had almost fainted since I had basically not slept the entire night before, had just given birth, and hadn't eaten or drunk enough either!
Once back to my room, we ate some of the soup and salad my dad had brought us and then slept for a few hours. Around 4:30 AM we awoke and went back to the NICU to be with Siobhan. Siobhan looked so cute in a pink and white knit hat that her nurse had put on her. While I spent time with her, Max went to a nearby grocery store to buy some more food. I cannot remember the sequence of events that well on that day. The day seemed to last forever since we had awoken before dawn! We learned that the NICU doctor would be there that morning and he would let us know if Siobhan could be discharged. At 7 AM, the NICU closed for an hour while the nurses switched shifts. We went back to our room and ate yogurt and larabars eagerly waiting to be back with our little girl. When we went back into the NICU after the break, we met Siobhan's new nurse, who was really sweet, and then began the process of finishing up Siobhan's stay in the NICU. We signed some documents declining some tests that we didn't want to do and Siobhan also got a hearing test done. Eventually the NICU doctor gave the okay that Siobhan could be released from the NICU. We were so relieved and happy!! The only obstacle to us leaving now was I needed the okay from the post partum doctor that I could leave too.
We wheeled Siobhan in her crib to the regular nursery to get her a security band and then she was brought into my room! That morning I was unhooked from the stuff that I'd been connected to. I was dying to get out of the hospital gown and into my own clothes, so, as soon as I had the chance, I changed into my own clothes. I felt way better (at least emotionally) in my own clothes! Around noon by dad came by on his lunch break and dropped off some more food. After he came, my mom, brother and sister came again as well as most of Max's family.
The whole day we were just waiting to get the okay that I could leave. So when the doctor came in and said we could go we were all so so happy! ( I had been worried that the doctor would find something wrong with me and make us stay longer. That would have been so infuriating because we had only come in the first place for Siobhan!) It still took ages to actually leave after we got the okay. There was a policy at the hospital that newborns had to be either carried out in a carseat or the mom had to be wheeled out with the baby on her lap. Unfortunately, we didn't have a portable carseat so I had to go in the wheelchair (much to my personal embarrassment and pride. But hey! Good opportunity to get over lame hangups). While I was wheeled out to the entrance, Max had loaded up the truck with all our belongings and was waiting at the entrance to meet us.
It was such a relief to be in our own truck with just the three of us! We couldn't wait to get home and "finish" our home birth experience which had ended so abruptly when Siobhan had come out. We felt like we had so many loose ends to tie up. We especially couldn't wait to talk to Mary, our wonderful midwife, about everything! We also felt like we still had so much to learn from her, eg, how to feed Siobhan, the best way to heal, etc. We kept on saying "We need to ask Mary."
We were almost afraid to return home because we were expecting to come home to a very dirty and messy house with birth supplies everywhere, dirty towels on the floor, etc. So we were quite surprised when we found our house perfectly tidy! There was no trace of the events of the prior day other than a washing machine full of dirty towels and sheets and the birth tub still in the living room. We learned later that Ronda had cleaned up everything and had prepared for our arrival back home. (Mary told us that they always leave the home clean and neat after the births. How awesome!!) As well as the tidy house, my family had come over and decorated our front door with a wreath covered with pink ribbons and a pink balloon on our mail box (letting everyone know that we had given birth to a girl! My parents did the same thing at their home when I was born!) It looked so pretty and festive!
So, on Tuesday afternoon, about 24 hours after our little girl was born, our home life began as a family of three!
Max's perspective on the story
Max here... Sharing this partially edited journal entry is a little vulnerable, but if Deirdre can share her experience, I can certainly share what I was going through at the time. I have never gone through such an emotionally taxing time as the 30-60 minutes when I was not sure whether our new daughter was going to live or not. Here's to all the Dads out there that stand by their wife's side, often feeling helpless, but being there for emotional stability and support!! Your wife and kids really need you to be there for them!
Journal Excerpt January 30, 2013 – 2:17 pm
Here I am, sitting in the living room, and I finally have a few moments to reflect on what has happened in the last week and a half. I realize that even though I used to journal fairly regularly when I was at College I have not journaled since before the wedding! Today is the year and a half anniversary of our wedding, and a lot has happened since then. It is interesting to be writing now, because I have just had the experience of becoming a Father, which is very, very different from becoming a Husband, although not entirely without similarity. In both cases I felt the weight of the responsibility of another human life on my shoulders, although I feel it much, much more now than before. Siobhán is dependent on me in a way that Deirdre never was. A wedding is the joining of two mature persons, but a birth is different.
Before the wedding, I had all these ideas of what it would be like, and it was really pretty different, to tell the truth. My friend, Scott, told me a few hours before the wedding up in the choir loft that when he married his wife, it felt like the most natural thing he ever did. I was surprised to feel the same way, and even more surprised to find out afterwards that Deirdre felt the same way too. Now that is incredible. It was the scariest thing she had ever done in her life, and change/commitment is so hard for her – but it felt simple and natural for her too. We both remembered the words from the play The Jeweler’s Shop “How simple this is,” referring to the wedding of Andrew and Theresa. I remember saying the vows, and it was so simple. No rush to the head – it just happened, and she said them too. Very simple. I couldn’t believe that that was it. I think the feeling that we had, and Scott as well, was born out of a very long, deep relationship that we had before we were married. People get married at all kinds of different stages of closeness, and ours was very close. I assume some people are asking the questions of whether they should do this all the way up to the wedding, but for me, there was no doubt in my mind that I wanted to marry Deirdre for a long time before that. I mean, I wanted to marry her since highschool, and I know that got put on hold several times, but it was always there, and it kept coming back, and finally it had come back to stay. Forever. That’s incredible.
All of this brings us to the birth of Siobhán, our dear little Siobhán. I couldn’t believe it was happening as it started. It was a little bit of the same feeling of “How simple this is.” Of course, Deirdre would roll her eyes into the back of her head if she heard me describe the process as “simple,” but what I mean is that we have all these funky pre-conceptions in our heads about what something will be like, and those thoughts seldom reflect what actually happens in the end.
On Sunday the 20th, we went to Brunch at the Deirdre's family's house for her brother, Patrick's Birthday. We both had a feeling that it was coming soon. We walked on shelf road that afternoon, trying to get Siobhán to drop, and we bumped into another couple, Alexandra and Brian, whose baby Emerson was also delivered by Mary just 3 months earlier. At 9:00 that night, we took a walk downtown through the arcade, and Deirdre started getting more contractions. I thought this was the beginning of labor, but Deirdre wasn’t so sure. We went to bed, but Deirdre kept having painful contractions, and had to get up to go to the bathroom. As soon as she got back in bed, she would have to go to the bathroom again. I think she went 25-30 times that night – no joke. At 3:30, it was all still happening, and they were getting stronger and longer. I timed some of them, and they were lasting a full minute, which was when we were supposed to call Mary. I called her, and left two messages, but she didn’t call back. I called again around 4:00, and she answered the phone. Before she came over, she said that Deirdre should get in the shower, and that would make the labor a little easier. She did that, and it helped. Mary came around 4:30, and Deirdre was still in the shower. Mary had us both lie in bed, with me behind Deirdre supporting her, and she helped Deirdre to relax a lot more through the contractions. We spent the next several hours in bed like that, and we even drifted into sleep a couple of times between the contractions. Mary was helping her to breathe deeply, and I did the deep breathing with Deirdre, so she had someone to breathe in and out with.
In the morning, around 9:00, Mary had to go to a mid-wife meeting, but said that she would be back before the labor got too intense. Ronda stayed with us during that time. She tried to swish Deirdre’s belly back and forth, to get Siobhán to turn over, because the most painful thing about the labor was Deirdre’s back and bottom, which hurt because Siobhán’s back was against hers. That didn’t work though. Sometime between 11:00 and 12:00, Deirdre wanted to get into the tub, so Ronda checked her, and she was already at 6-7 cm. Deirdre got in the tub, and I was really wishing that Mary would come back, and was trying to decide whether I should call her or not.
When Deirdre got into the tub, the contractions started getting stronger. Ronda had me feeding Deirdre some puree chicken-stock soup, and coconut water through a straw. Mary came back around 12:00. I was so glad to see her. The contractions were really getting stronger, and more painful for Deirdre. It was so hard for me to watch her go through them. There was not a whole lot that we said during that time. I think we both knew that there was not much that anybody could say – she just needed me to be there, and squeeze her hand when it hurt, and help her to breathe deeply. Ronda and I kept telling her that she was doing a great job, but I don’t know how much of a consolation that was for her. I have never heard such loud noises out of Deirdre before.
After Mary got back, she helped Deirdre to hold her head up, and Ronda and I were behind Deirdre. I remember first seeing Siobhán’s little head in the hand mirror, and reaching down to feel her hair. Mary and Ronda said that I could catch Siobhán when she came out. Ronda told me to take a wash-cloth, and to squeeze Deirdre’s bottom together during the contraction, to help the canal to open for the baby. I didn’t feel very confident doing that, and I kept losing grip.
Mary was very calm the whole time, but I noticed that she and Ronda were always checking Siobhán’s heart rate with the ultra-sound monitor after a lot of the contractions. I assumed that was routine, but I was a little surprised to see how often they were doing it. Maybe it is routine to do it that often – I don’t know – but it seemed like a lot. I could hear that Siobhán’s heart rate was slower after a push, but they would tell Deirdre to breathe deeply, to send oxygen down to Siobhán, and the heart rate would come back up again. I didn’t know at the time that it wasn’t coming up fast enough to be normal.
At that point, Mary and Ronda were exchanging more glances, and it seemed as if they wanted the baby to be coming out faster than she was. They kept showing optimism with each push, and told Deirdre to push hard. She was all bent up with pain and pushing, and her face was totally red as she did it. She was really out of it, but still did a great job pushing. But it seemed as if she wasn’t pushing Siobhán out fast enough, because Ronda kept feeling Siobhán’s head, and Mary would ask her something, and Ronda said not yet.
Then, Mary finally said that Deirdre could do one more push in the tub, and that if that one didn’t bring the head out, that she would have to get out and change position. She had asked Deirdre to change position earlier, but Deirdre didn’t want to move at all, and made that very clear. I can’t actually remember now if she ended up changing position in the tub before getting out, or not. Her leg kept cramping up as she pushed, which made things a lot harder, and Mary would help her to straighten it out, until the cramp went away. Mary remained calm, but she had a sense of urgency about her as she told Deirdre that she would have to get out of the tub, and onto the couch, and she said that she would have to do an episiotomy. I didn’t know what an episiotomy was at the time, but I was a little worried, and did not like the sound of it. Mary’s urgent attitude was also a little disconcerting, since she is normally so calm. I didn’t ask any questions though – I just did as I was told. I totally trusted Mary, and knew that whatever she said was best, whether I understood it or not, and whether Deirdre wanted it or not.
So, we all helped Deirdre out of the tub, and onto the couch. I was horrified to see Mary ask Ronda for a pair of surgical scissors, and I realized that episiotomy meant cutting Deirdre to open up for Siobhán. I had heard of that happening before. I felt sick watching Mary cut Deirdre twice, and I expected to hear Deirdre yelp with pain and jump off the couch, but she didn’t even seem to notice. I was amazed.
It was very soon after that (maybe 1-2 more pushes) that Siobhán’s head came out. Mary had Ronda get the oxygen tank ready, and by this point I knew that something was really wrong. I felt totally sick inside, because of the pain Deirdre was in, watching her get cut, and now seeing that everything was not OK with Siobhán. As I write this, the senation of being there comes back to me, and tears almost come into my eyes. I just felt sick. I knew though that I had to stay calm (which I did), and just be there for Deirdre. Even though I was worried, and Mary’s attitude showed that something was wrong, I still totally trusted her. Thinking back now to how I was so hands-off (in a sense) shows what incredible trust I had in her, and I didn’t think that the situation was totally out of her control. The head was blue and purple, which I was not expecting. The head also so quiet, which was very eerie, but then again, I did not know what to expect, since I had never seen a birth before. Mary checked for the cord, and I think she could tell that it was around the body, with one more push, the rest of the body came out, and had to slip through the cord, which was around her body twice. Mary quickly tossed Siobhán up on to Deirdre’s chest, and for a second I lost track of what was going on, because I was telling Deirdre (who was totally out of it) that her baby was here, and I spent a second trying to comfort her with that fact. Mary had Ronda get the oxygen right away, and started doing CPR, and placing the mask over her face and pumping. She would do three chest compressions with her thumb, and on the fourth one Ronda would give a blast of oxygen through the mask. Of course, I was terrified to see this happening, and it was really at this point that I realized that Siobhán’s life was really in danger. It was a little too much for me to handle, and I emotionally checked out of the situation. I felt most sick for Deirdre, because I could not bear to think that she would have had to go through all this for nine months only to lose her baby at the end of it. I don’t think anyone could tell I was stressed, and I felt strangely emotionally distant from the whole thing. I had to – otherwise I would have lost my calm and collection, and that would have made things worse.
I was praying as hard as I could to Mary (mother Mary), and touching my miraculous medal. Writing this makes me cry a little bit. I was so worried, but I didn’t have time to think about it then. It is more in reflection afterwards that I realize how worried I was. Mary had a tube which she used to suck fluid out of Siobhán’s lungs, and did the CPR (including mouth to mouth) for 6 minutes. She kept telling us to talk to our baby, but I felt so dumb – I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t want to say something like “we don’t want you to die,” because I didn’t want to admit that possibility out loud, especially not in front of Deirdre, but that was all that was in my mind. Deirdre and I both said something to her but I don’t remember what. After 6 minuntes, Mary told me to call 911. That sent another blast of shock through me, and I almost gave up. I put everything in God’s hands, and was really ready to see my child go up to heaven right there.
In a daze, I started for the office phone, and then realized that I should call from the other phone line, because that was the one that was registered at our address. I walked back across the house quickly and dialed 911 from the living room phone. I remembered dialing 911 just a few months ago when we found the drunk guy on our couch in the morning of the Highland Games in our old apartment. I was thinking that this was just too many times to be calling 911 in a short amount of time. And Deirdre also had her car accident within the same time… I talked to the operator over the phone, who seemed to have a million questions to ask about the situation.
I was answering the questions that the operator was asking, and think to myself, “Just get the hell over here, man.” But I stayed calm and was actually able to answer all of his questions. 4 minutes later, the fire paramedics were the first to arrive. Ambulance and police showed up a couple minutes later, and the living room was absolutely jam packed with people. I think the fire paramedic cut the cord, and switched from Mary’s oxygen tank to their own. I was not too clear about what was happening there – I was still fairly hands-off, because I know that there was nothing I could do, and I would only be in the way of either Mary or the paramedics. I went running into the bedroom to grab Deirdre’s purse (with ID), and clothes for her, because we had foolishly forgotten to pack a bag for transfer to the hospital like Mary had advised us to do. I felt stupid about that, but quickly grabbed a make-shift outfit from both dirty and clean clothes that I saw lying around.
When I came back out, there was a cop in the living room, who said that he needed to talk to me to get information about what had happened. I guess he needed to make a police report or something. I was trying to follow what was going on with Siobhán and Deirdre, so I was not really giving him my full attention. I made it very clear to him that I was going with the ambulance, and would not stay behind to answer his questions, if Deidre and Siobhán left. He understood, and just asked a few basic questions. I know that at least for a time, I was able to stand by the couch, and I caught Deirdre eye, and squeezed her hand, and help up my miraculous medal, and told her with my mouth movements to pray. I was praying with all my might, and leaving it all in Mary’s (mother Mary’s) hands. I prayed the Memorare, and left it at that.
The paramedics from the ambulance had taken over by now from the firefighters. I vaguely remember seeing one of the firefighters seem a little frantic earlier on, and another one told him to calm down, I think. The paramedics had picked up Deirdre with Siobhán still on her chest, and carried her onto a wheeling stretcher, and out to the ambulance. I am happy that they were able to stay together for that part of it. They told me that I could come, but that I had to ride in the front seat, not in the back with Deirdre and Siobhán. That was fine with me, as long as I could go with.
We pulled out to the street and once he turned into downtown, the driver turned on lights and sirens. It was crazy to go tearing downtown at 55 mph, and watching all the cars pull over in front of us, and watch as we went by. I was thinking about how it was just an ordinary day for them, and how many times I had pulled over for an ambulance, and not thought twice about it. I wondered if anyone seeing us decided to pray for us. Since then, I have prayed more for people when I hear sirens.
We got to the hospital, and it was seeming more and more like Siobhán was doing better. They took her and put her on a table next to the bed that Deirdre was on. This memory is a blur, and I was just thinking “OK, lets just get through this alive, and keep the number of medical interventions to those which are most necessary.” The first thing the doctor wanted to do was give Siobhán a vitamin K shot, to keep blood from clotting in her brain. I said that I needed to call Mary first, to ask her if it was OK. I called her from the hospital phone, and she said to give the K, and also she didn’t know which hospital we had gone to, so she was still waiting at the house. I asked her to come, and she did.
There was a nice nurse who was helping Deirdre deliver the placenta, which had not been done yet. I remember seeing her pull the last membranes out. I thought that there was no way that we would be able to keep it, and encapsulate it like we wanted to, but I totally had the attitude of, “I don’t even care, just get my daughter back to life. We can lose the placenta, but we can’t lose her.”
Siobhán hadn’t made a noise up to this point, but sometime soon after getting to the emergency room, she gave a cry. I had never ever been so relieved to hear a baby cry, because it meant that her lungs were working properly. Even now, I still don’t really mind when she cries, because I remember too well the terrifying eerie silence that marked her first 30 minutes of life.
Since she was not on Deirdre anymore, I remembered that it was so important for Siobhán to feel physical touch in the early moments of her life, so I was making every effort to stroke and touch her body. Deirdre asked me to do that, and I told her that I already had been. Also, people were coming up to me with so many papers to sign, and I was quickly trying to ascertain what it was that I was signing before I signed. The same cop showed up again, and apologized for keeping me before, and I gave him the rest of the information that he needed. He was very understanding of the situation at the house where I had to leave him.
At some point, I noticed the placenta was still lying around the room in a plastic tub, and I asked the nurse if we could keep it. She said yes, and went to get ice packs for it. She kindly suggested that we call someone to come and pick it up to put it in the fridge. I found out a little later that she had been a midwife herself before being a nurse, and was familiar with the idea of placenta encapsulation. What a stroke of luck/providence that we got her in the emergency room!
I decided to call Deirdre's parents [who live closer], and got the answering machine. I just said, “Hi guys, it’s Max, can you PLEASE pick up the phone,” and waited. Maire picked up, and I asked for Mom. I told her what happened, and that Siobhán was OK now, and that we needed to someone to come ASAP to get the placenta. She was on her way…
I realized that I should call my parents as well, since Siobhán and Deirdre were doing better now, so I did. They were very excited, and I told them that I would call them when I knew more. At some point, I asked if Siobhán could be laid on Deirdre, and they said that she could, so they got to go skin-to-skin again. Deirdre's Mom soon showed up with some family friends too, Liz, Elissa and Ian.. Mary was there at that point, and said that not everybody could come in. So, while Mom went in with Deirdre, I went out to talk to our friends. It was hard to leave Deirdre and Siobhán in there, but since they were Ok at that point, and because Mary was there, I felt that the least I could do for the friends that came to the hospital was to go out and tell them what happened, since they weren’t able to come in. It was my first breathing time since everything had happened. I talked to them for about 10 mins, but wanted to go back in the whole time. Went I went back in, they were talking about whether we had to go to CMH [a bigger hospital nearby], or whether we could just go home. The midwife-nurse was helping us quietly, but there were other people in the hospital who told us that if we did not go to CMH, they would call CPS, and take Siobhán from us. I decided that it would not be practical to let my rage fly at the moment, so I just resigned myself to going to the hospital again. After all, as long as my daughter was alive, I was OK. I could get through anything at that point.
The same paramedics that drove us from the house were the ones who transferred us to CMH. It was a very relaxing ride, compared to what had happened before. I could hear Deirdre and Siobhán in the back, and Siobhán was making some little noises, which was music to my ears. I could hear Deirdre talking to the paramedic in the back, but I couldn’t hear what they were saying.
Ronda had sent along a bag of food from the house before we left, so I had that with me in the front. When we got to CMH, the paramedic was nice enough to carry bag with Deirdre to her room, since I had to leave Deirdre at the NICU, to stay with Siobhán. I said goodbye to Deirdre, and went with Siobhán into the NICU. As soon as I was in there, I had to scrub my hands and arms for three minutes with anti bacterial soap before coming in. I was trying to keep my eye on Siobhán, just around the corner, as several nurses crowded around her. I asked them to ask me before doing anything to her. One of the nurses asked me if she could do something, and I don’t remember what it was, but it was not much, and I said yes of course. I wanted to say yes to as many things as possible, so that my “no” for vaccinations would carry more weight.
When I was done washing my hands, they let me cut off the rest of the umbilical cord. I told them I would like to save it, and they put it in a little bag for me, and I put it in Deirdre’s purse, which I still had with me. Then the doctor came with a page for me to sign. He was very nice, and he said that if all went normally through the night, that we could leave the next morning. I asked him if they were going to give vaccinations, and he said that the only one they might give was hepatits B, if Deirdre had tested positive for it. I was totally sure that she had not tested positive, so I was assured on that account, but I asked him to let me know before they gave the vaccine anyway, just in case.
They said that they needed to do bloodwork on Siobhán, which I knew meant that she had to be pricked, but I thought that it would be better to let them do it. At first they asked me to stand aside, which I couldn’t bear, and a few minutes later, I just came back to watch anyway, and nobody told me to go away. It was almost 6:30 pm at this point, which is when the nurses change shifts, and everybody had to clear the NICU until 7:30. I was really bummed, because I wanted to stay with Siobhán the whole time, but I had no choice. They were still trying to find her vein to take the blood test when I left – not a nice note to leave on.
I consoled myself with the fact that both Deirdre and Siobhán needed me, and I couldn’t be in two places at once, so I went to find Deirdre. She had gotten her stitches done already, and was hooked up to an IV, and pitocin. I felt awful for her – all the things she hoped would not happen were happening to her. I was getting a little mad about it, when a nurse came in to take a blood sample from Deirdre. I though, OK, this is the last straw, and I just had to watch while tears streamed down Deirdre’s face. I swore at the nurse under my breath, when she took an insanely long amount of time poking around at Deirdre trying to find her vein. You can imagine my rage when a nurse came in 30 minutes later to say that the blood sample was too clotted, and they would have to take it again. I got visibly upset, and told the nurse she must be kidding. She was a bit taken aback by that, and I asked her if there was anything we could sign to decline the test. The nurse said we could decline it without signing anything, so we did, and I thanked her very much to make up for snapping at her when she came in.
Mary and Ronda were there. Ronda told me to sit down, but I couldn’t. I was on adrenaline. Deirdre's Dad brought food from Nature’s Grill, and I was very hungry, and ate some of it. A nurse came in with our arm-bands to show that we were the parents of Siobhán. At 7:30, I went back to the NICU, and told Deirdre to come join me once she got transferred to the post-partum section of the hospital. The nurses who had taken over the shift were a little nicer than the ones from before, especially the one who was assigned to Siobhán. I was delighted to know that I could be there as much as I wanted to, and could hold Siobhán the whole time. Mom, Dad, Aidan and Maire came by the window, and the nurse let me walk over to show Siobhán to them. I remember Deirdre's Dad saying, “Wow, Max, congratulations!” I held her in the NICU for more than an hour, and wondered why Deirdre wasn’t there yet. I decided to leave Siobhán for just a minute to go find Deirdre. I went to her room, and she said that she would be there soon, so I went back to Siobhán.
When Deirdre came, I was very excited to have Siobhán nurse, because she had not eaten anything yet, and was getting fussy. We spent an incredibly frustrating three hours from 9:00 to about midnight try to get her to latch on, but it didn’t work, and Deirdre didn’t have any milk anyway. I didn’t know that the milk didn’t come in right away, and I was thinking, “what the heck is wrong?” After three hours, we got a pump for Deirdre, and she pumped just a tiny bit of milk – almost nothing. The nurses suggested giving her formula for the meantime, so we could get some sleep. I didn’t want to give her formula, but I was worried that she wasn’t eating, and that Deirdre had no milk at all, and I knew that we needed to get some sleep. So, I told them that they could feed her formula.
We went back to Deirdre’s room, and slept from 1:00 am to 4:00. When we got back to the room, it was the first time that Deirdre and I had to ourselves after the whole fiasco. I think we both cried. It was the first real sleep we had since two nights before, since Deirdre went into labor at 9:00 pm the night before.
At 4:00 am we went back to the NICU, because we couldn’t bear to be away from Siobhán anymore. Right before 6:00, I left Siobhán with Deirdre, and ran out to the store to buy more food.
I got back just in time for the shift change, and the old nurses were back again. We were kicked out from 6:30 – 7:30, at which point, we went back to the room and ate some breakfast. It was very hard for Deirdre to walk with her stitches, and actually, the night before, she almost fainted and I had to catch her. I think she was really dehydrated then. We went back to Siobhán at 7:30, and luckily she had a nice nurse assigned to her again. The nurse said that she could probably go that morning, and that we would know for sure when the doctor made his rounds in a few hours. So we stayed with Siobhán for the next several hours, while she had a hearing test, and the nurses instructed us in how to take care of her once we left.
After that, we were allowed to take Siobhán back to the room with us and keep her there. As soon as Deirdre’s doctor cleared her to go, we could go home. We got visits from both families and our friend Liz in the meantime, and it was just great to have Siobhán in the room, and to know that she was OK. We got Deirdre’s discharge from the hospital a few hours later, and were on our way home by evening.
My Reflections on Siobhan's Birth
Deirdre here again...
As I reflect upon Siobhan's birth, there was so much that I learned! First of all, the bottom line -- although it was a very difficult experience, everything was okay in the end and that is what really matters! We have a beautiful precious girl! I need to focus my energy on that, and not just on what went wrong.
One big lesson I learned: all moms are heroes! Whatever birth a mom has, she has given so much for this baby! Wow! We have some good friends who say that there are two types of person in the world: those that have kids and those that don't. But, parents are the only people who know that there are two types of person -- people without kids just have no idea what it takes 24/7 to raise them to adulthood!
Another awesome result of my birth experience is that I know I can handle anything that life throws my way now! The experience has given me more confidence in myself and I am really proud of myself.
After Siobhan's birth, it took me a while to realize what had actually gone wrong, and after much reflection, I realized that I was not simply a victim, but it was something that could be under my control. The whole thing was a case of mind over matter. The bottom line is that my mind, which consequently fed my emotions, determined how my birth went, not just in how I viewed my birth but also in what ended up happening physically during the labor and birth. I hate pain and, when the labor started, I was terrified of it and was never able to accept that during the whole labor process. I resisted it the whole time. When you resist the pain, it gets way worse, and the whole thing takes longer, because your muscles are tensing and working against your body's natural process of opening up. I know that if I hadn't taken the steps to realize that I was afraid and then learned tools to help me accept it then my second birth would have essentially been a repeat experience. I believe that whole heartedly!
With my second birth, the key difference was acceptance of this pain rather than resistance. Once I mentally accepted it, and put all my effort of concentration on staying relaxed, I was able to work with my body, and I had the miracle of a labor one third the duration, and way, way less pain in the long run, and fewer negative feelings alongside. I was blessed to be able to work through my fears and other related challenges with my midwife before and during my pregnancy with my second baby. I also found a few books incredibly helpful:
1. The Bradley Method
2. The Sears Birth Book, especially the chapter on "Why Birth Hurts, Why It Doesn't Have To."
3. Ina Mae Gaskin's Guide To Natural Childbirth, especially the chapter on "The Pain / Pleasure Riddle."
You'll be hearing more about that when I tell Declan's birth story in 6 months when we celebrate his first birthday!
I have to say that Max was indispensable in keeping me focused and relaxed when it started to get intense. This has totally been a journey that we have undertaken together as you can see reading both of our journal excerpts.
I hope this story encourages other new moms or wannabe moms to seriously consider the amazing capacity natural birth has for transformative growth. Here's to all you hero-moms out there -- and that means every mom!! Yay!
Deirdre here... I am super excited that we planted Chamomile seed last weekend and it just sprouted a few days ago! Since it has actually been raining here, the soil has been moist enough that the chamomile came up without having to put any sprinklers on. Yay! I planted it in our short 50 foot beds which hopefully we will devote to herbs and flowers, two of my favorite crops! We are looking forward to drinking our own Chamomile tea and this will be a great beginning to growing more herbs! Next on the list we plan to plant some mint, another one of our favorite teas with lots of health benefits as well.
Max here... We were working the last couple days to get these new beds ready for planting garlic. We have never planted in these beds before, I shaped them with the walking tractor not too long ago. We grew our first bed of garlic somewhat successfully last year, and this year, I wanted to try growing more.
Something funny happened when I was ordering my seed garlic. I ordered 25 lbs instead of the 5 lbs I ordered last year from High Mowing Organic Seeds in Vermont. A few days after ordering, I was talking to another local farmer, Steve Sprinkel. I often buy produce from him for our online farmstand, and I was picking up an order from him when he randomly asked "Hey Max, do you want to buy any garlic for planting?" "What variety?" I asked. "Inchelium." He said. Inchelium was the very same variety I had just ordered 25 lbs of from High Mowing! Fortunately, they let me cancel the order, and I bought all my seed garlic from a local farmer in my own valley! And it was a better price too! I love it!
We were working as quickly as we could to get the beds all prepped and planted before rain came. We have been getting quite a bit of rain this winter, which is a much needed resource for us. In fact, I have not turned our sprinklers on at all in the last several weeks, the rain has been consistent enough to water all the veggies. To prep the beds, we used our broadfork for gentle deep tillage, spread an organic fertilizer because garlic needs a lot of nitrogen to grow well, spread compost and old micro green soil on top, and ran our power harrow over it as the final step. I have been coming to realize that our soil is a bit heavy on the farm, and really benefits from more compost and other organic matter being added to it. That may sound like a no-brainer to those of the organic mindset, but sometimes I am surprised just how much compost a bed can take to get it really producing well. I am definitely going to make a goal of building up the soil in our beds even more in 2017.
We got all the largest cloves planted in four beds, and covered them with row cover to keep the nicely prepped soil and compost from washing away in the rain. With beets that we transplanted a month ago, the rain came and washed some of the soil away because it was newly tilled and soft. I didn't want to make that mistake again. I covered the other two unplanted beds for the same reason, and we have a box of smaller cloves to plant in those beds. I am planning on planting them closer together, and harvesting them young in the spring as Spring Garlic. Having garlic available at the Farmers Market is really nice, because whatever we don't sell will just hold over to future markets. It's a totally different story with most other veggies, which need to be sold fresh, or you lose your money in growing them.
The two pics below are of our little wheat patch which is growing very nicely!
Max here... A couple weeks ago we planted our first patch of wheat as an experiment. That square patch of green is where we planted it -- just beginning to be visible after several good rains. We have always wanted to make bread from flour that is fresh ground from wheat berries. Before Deirdre and I were married, I went to school in Austria for 4 years, and would buy my flour from a lady who had a little farm store. I would simply tell her how much I wanted, and she would take the wheat or rye berries, pour them into the grain mill, and I walked home with flour still warm from the grinding stones. Talk about fresh!
Ultimately, we want to grow more food for our own family's consumption, from grains to meat to veggies to eggs to honey to dairy and beyond. More of our efforts are directed now toward establishing a healthy cash flow from crops that sell well, but we are really excited to begin experimenting with grains. I simply scattered 10 lbs of grain over the area, and then tilled it in with our power harrow.
As a Christmas gift, Deirdre's brother gave us a copy of a brand new book by our friends in Ohio, Shawn and Beth Dougherty called "The Independent Farmstead." I just started reading it last night, and it is a refreshing dose of homesteading wisdom. Most of my farm reading material lately has been on systems of commercial production rather than homesteading, but we have a goal to acheive both with our farm. The book mentions in the very beginning that many people want to homestead, but don't realize all the implications, and aren't able to support themselves financially when they try to do it. Our vision is to have a farm that grows the majority of our own food, and still brings in enough cash that we don't need to work off-farm.
Yesterday it started raining about 9:00 AM, and continued all day and night. We were working the day before to prep these beds and get them transplanted before the rain came, because we had lots of starts ready in the greenhouse. We didn't get them all done though, so it meant getting up at the crack of dawn and running out to the farm to finish up before the rain came. We made it just in time, and got beautiful swiss chard, lettuces and lacinato kale in the ground.
Max here... True to our resolutions, we set out for a hard day's work on the farm this morning. It was a little neglected over Christmas time. We only went out to water in the greenhouse, and do the minimum chores to keep things going. Now, it's time to buckle down and get back to work...
I'll be honest. It's hard work. You have to put in the hours to make a farm go. But it all seems easy when you compare trying to do the same work while watching your kids at the same time. I'm not gonna paint a purely romantic picture of this farm life we are living -- here's part of the inside scoop on one of our biggest challenges.
For the last several months, we have been bringing both kids out to the farm almost every day, and trying to work the morning out there with them. Some days it actually works great. Declan falls asleep, and we put him down for a nap, and Siobhan finds something to play with, and keeps herself busy while we both put our heads down and work. But that is probably 10% of the time! Usually, one of us ends up watching / playing with the kids, and the other ends up working, but is still distracted by the presence and needs of the family. Kids demand and deserve a lot of attention, and focused work does too.
The challenge is exacerbated by the fact that we lease our farmland 2.5 miles away from home, requiring a short commute. A single adult could jump in their car, and be out there in 5 minutes, but getting kids (and ourselves!) dressed, feeding them breakfast, packing water bottles, snacks and diaper bags, and buckling them into car-seats can take an hour or more. And a lot of energy!
We dearly want our kids to grow up being part of farm life, so for 2017 we are scheduling time on the farm both with and without kids. For the time without them, we will hire help to take care of them, to be able to devote several uninterupted hours to working hard together. For times with them, we will see it as partial family time, and partial work, so we will have lower expectations for what we get done in those times.
That's what we did today. It felt really good to put a hard day of work in, and we got a lot done, including some real progress on clearing and tilling the 2nd half of our leased proprety in preparation for beds going in.
Max here... Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to everybody! We are having a wonderful Christmas season, and we certainly like to draw out the season for all it's worth! Things got rolling Christmas Eve, starting with a farmers market in the morning, then straight to my parents house for tree decorating, and then from there to Deirdre's parents for Christmas Eve dinner. On the way over, we stopped at the farm to make one final check on the plants, and to pick greens for that evening's salad. After a lovely Christmas Eve dinner of traditional fish soup and salad, the whole extended family gathered around the tree for poetry, carols and tunes late into the evening.
Siobhan awoke the next morning with delight to find her stocking stuffed with healthy, yummy goodies!
Christmas day started out once again at my parents' house, then midafternoon we drove 30 minutes to be with Deirdre's family for the rest of the day (and a lot of the night!) We lose track of time on days like this, and we did not sit down to Christmas dinner until 10:30 at night. Turkey, gravy, salad, homemade apple sauce, cranberries, olives... a true feast!
Why celebrate just Christmas day? We don't like to let a feast go uncelebrated, so we gatherered back at our house the next morning for a St. Stephen's day brunch, followed by a brisk hike along a mountain road within walking distance of our house.
Among the bounty of beautiful gifts given to us by many loving family members and friends, we mention just a few here. We prepared jars of our chai mixture spices, together with local raw honey, and homemade persimmon leather for our family members. Deirdre surprised me with "The Marvelous Pigness of Pigs," the latest book written by our favorite farming mentor Joel Salatin. I surprised her with a subscription and 10 back issues to our new favorite magazine "Taproot," edited by Amanda Soule of "Soule Mama Blog." We have been avidly reading the articles, which go hand in hand with our vision of a life fully lived -- intentionally seeking beauty, community and rootedness in nature.
Moving on toward 2017... we took some time the last few days to sit down and talk about what we want to accomplish this year. We came up with a daily schedule to live by which we will start tomorrow -- exciting, but it's going to take a real commitment to our goals. In particular, we plan to pull all the loose ends of our farm together, and really establish it as a smoothly (as smooth as a farm can be!) functioning, profitable farm, that generates a good living for our family. We have learned a LOT over the last two years of farming, and we feel poised to make our third year the most efficient and organized one yet.
We also have comitted to finding new ways to keep our home more organzied, and setting it up in such a way that tasks flow more easily, and messes get cleaned up quicly, or are even avoided altogether. Living with two kids, and doing business in a 540 square foot house is not easy, but we have commited to staying here until we can afford something bigger, and we will absolutely maximize every square inch of living/working/storage space until we move. Ever since we moved in 4 years ago, we have embarked on an ongiong quest arranging our home to maximize efficiency and organization, but just as importantly beauty and homeliness. Part of our new effort these last couple days involved building and installing wall shelves in our kitchen and bedroom. Functional and beautiful, these shelves are going to make a huge difference! Go vertical!
We re-arranged our living room to have our table in front of the main window -- more light for meals now. The table is set for this morning's New Year celebratory family brunch. Eggs, Pasture-raised sausage, buttered toast, homemade apple sauce, fresh sapote, whipped cream, brussel sprouts, roasted potatoes, fresh pressed spiced cider, homemade chocolate truffles and hot tea! Yum...
Happy New Year! Let's make it a good one!
About the Authors
Max and Deirdre Becher farm together on First Steps Farm in Southern California. They love farming, raising their kids, playing music, contradancing, cooking, and working together to create a vibrant culture of celebrating life. See it all unfold right here!