My last post discussed some of the big picture reasons we decided to move to Maine. Most people we talk to presume we are going to Maine to farm, and that is correct. But the path we are taking to reach that point is different from what most people are expecting. This post explores some of the things waiting for us once we move and how farming plays into the (not-so-immediate) future. And why this is the best way to do it!
Farming is not an easy business to get into, and one of Joel Salatin's wise pieces of advice to new farmers is “Bloom where you're planted.” He specifically says that even if you live in an area with high cost of living and land (like we do), you are better off starting in a place where you have connections than by moving to an area with lower cost of land and starting from scratch. We took that advice to heart 6 years ago when we moved back home to California from Kansas where we lived briefly while Deirdre finished college. We knew we wanted to farm, and this was where we had all our childhood connections, and those connections certainly began to pay off two years later when we actually started the farm. They helped me find my land lease, my volunteer and educational opportunities, my first customers, and my first farm job.
I've mentioned before that we encountered resistance when we used to speak about our desire to farm. I've realized over the years that what people had in mind when I said that was substantially different from what I had in my own mind. I saw pathways to get from where I was to where I wanted to be that were not obvious to the people who thought my ideas were unrealistic. Living constantly with my own thoughts, I can begin to take them for granted and forget that some of them are actually pretty unconventional. Writing posts like this gives me the opportunity to explain more of the details involved in some of the decisions we make that often strike others as risky or foolish.
I just went back now and reread the first blog post I ever wrote. I wrote it in late 2014, a few days before signing the lease for the property we farmed the last four years. This post feels like a flashback to that one, and I'm revisiting some of the same themes I touched on there. It's a flashback because I wrote that post at the dawn of my first farm adventure. Now I'm writing this one at the dawn of our second.
I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have been exposed to the ideas of “You Can Farm” by Joel Salatin before I ever broke ground on my farm. Among all the authors and speakers I have studied in the small farm world, I still consider Joel to be number one when it comes to unstoppable energy and enthusiasm and an uncanny ability to find unconventional ways to get things done.
Once you read one of Joel’s books, or listen to a few of his talks, you start to realize how his brain works. He doesn't think along conventional lines. He doesn't care what people think of him, and has no problem doing things that look weird. He is a self-described “Christian Libertarian Environmentalist Capitalist Lunatic Farmer.” You can tell he gets a kick out of defying conventional paradigms and breaking out of cliche camps. The “Lunatic Farmer” who started with a one-room attic apartment and no capital has now turned his family farm into the most fertile, productive farm in his area. He built it into a two million dollar business.
Joel is a true leader in the group of farmers that have come on the scene in the last couple decades demonstrating alternative ways to farm and helping guys like me get into it from the outside.
I have absorbed many of his ways of thinking by osmosis, but I have to remember that many people consider him a lunatic. When I told people I was going to farm, they didn't know some of the liberating things Joel and others taught me. To mention just a few:
It's that last point that is most relevant for this post and the next chapter in our farm adventure. Most people presume we have already found a farm in Maine, and bought it, and are off to start farming immediately. Wrong!
In the spirit of following Joel's advice, “Bloom where you're planted,” we are going to plant ourselves firmly in Maine before attempting to bloom as farmers there. We are not naive, and realize starting a farm in a new area and harsher climate is going to need to happen in stages. I am just as excited about stage one as I am about the farm we will own someday, hopefully sooner rather than later, but I'm willing to accept whatever comes as the adventure unfolds. Stage one is taking at least a full year off from commercial farming in order to focus on the following priorities.
Unless you are independently wealthy (not there yet), economics are a limiting factor on where you're able to move and what you're able to spend your time doing. Deirdre and I got married with huge dreams and no money whatsoever, and knew we would have to be creative and flexible to support our family without letting all our time be consumed with working jobs we didn't enjoy. Since our wedding almost eight years ago, we have made money by farming, our produce distribution business, musical performing, teaching music and dance, working for other farmers, teaching reading classes, teaching college classes and working as a freelance student recruiter. We had to be flexible, and we still do.
To support ourselves economically as we make this transition, we'll still be drawing from multiple income sources. I took a half time job at the parish we are joining as their director of Parish Social Ministry. It feels strange to be working for someone else again, after being self-employed for 4 years, but I am very excited about this job. Not only will it be an economic support, it is going to introduce us to so many members of the community we are moving into. I'll be working within the church itself, and with other community leaders to minister to the needy. If taking this job sounds random to you, then you don't know Deirdre and me well enough. I'm saving the details about this job for another post, but this ties right into our dreams.
Our other income source is actually going to continue to be the local farm distribution business we started five years ago right here in Ojai (Ojai Farmstand). Since we use online software to sell to our local customers instead of a brick-and-mortar store, we have some flexibility built into the business. We experimented this past summer by continuing to operate our weekly produce delivery while gone for three months. We were already hiring delivery drivers and a crew to pack orders, so now we just needed to add a manager to coordinate them, and receive produce from our farm partners. I was still placing orders, updating inventory, communicating with customers and other admin from Maine over the internet and phone. It worked surprisingly well, and we were testing to see if it were even possible to think about doing this long-term from Maine.
Now, I know it's probably sounding a little weird to be running a business that sells produce from local farms to local customers from the other side of the country. I'm also saving these details for another post, but it's going to happen. We re-founded the business this year as a partnership, owned and operated jointly by a fellow farmer and entrepreneur in Camarillo. Mike Roberts of Baby Root Farm is very excited to be working with us in a dynamic partnership that is going to take this business and use it to connect more local farmers with more local eaters. We poured at least as much energy into building this business as we did into the farm, and it would have been really sad to have to walk away from it completely and stop operations. Our roles in the partnership willl gain clarity over time, but essentially Mike will be running things on the ground, and I will be freed up to focus more on our online presence and functionality, and other administrative tasks which can be done at a distance. I can't convey enough how excited I am about this partnership. We will definitely be writing more about this in the months to come.
So, that in a nutshell is what awaits us in stage one. The farm is our goal, and we will have it, but we are going to take the scenic route to get there. And definitely the road less traveled...
The college recruiting job I worked for a couple years after returning home gave us some opportunities for paid travel for work. We incorporated some visits to friends who were farming, which was the immediate inspiration for us to get going ourselves on our own farm. This photo was from Summer 2013 -- one year before starting to farm.
Deirdre's fiddle teaching brought in money as we transitioned from employment to farming. She tapered back on the number of students she had once we had two kids, but she still has a handful of students, and will presumably teach a few in Maine as well. It makes some money, keeps her playing fiddle, and it's rewarding to see others learn how to play.
Max here... The new year is a time naturally conducive to making changes in one’s life. 2019 is going to be a year our family will look back on as one of the biggest years of change, although the seeds were planted over a year ago in 2017.
This post is our official announcement that the Becher family and First Steps Farm is packing up, and moving to Northern New England. Specifically, Maine.
There is hardly a person we have talked to that is not shocked, and often somewhat confused by our decision to move to the opposite corner of the union. I’ve spent so much time and energy trying to explain this in conversation, that I decided to write it down. Naturally, upon hearing the news, people want to know why, and I don’t blame them. Sometimes I wish I knew why myself in a more demonstrable way, and was better at conveying our deep-seated, fully confident intuition in terms that someone else can actually understand. Hopefully this post will shed some light on what seems like a rash adventure at best, and irresponsible folly at worst.
The first thing I feel compelled to say is that I have been in this place before. I don’t mean Maine, or any physical place, but rather the place of having to explain something about my life choices that most people have a hard time understanding, and even see as foolish. My entire college term of 5 years, I constantly had to answer the question “You study what??” “I’m pursuing a Masters in Theology at an international Catholic institute.” “Whoa, that sounds cool I guess. So, what is that exactly?” … “Okaaay, let me try to sum it up for you.”
After graduating and getting married, people naturally want to know about your plans for the future. Can anyone have a conversation with a new college grad without broaching the subject of ‘what’s next?’ “Well, Deirdre and I want to start a family farm.” “Oh, cool. I knew someone who tried that once. They lasted a few years, but they realized pretty soon they’ve got a family to support, and there’s no money in farming.” … (OK, now that you’ve just written me off as a head-in-the-clouds unrealistic dreamer setting my family up for poverty, how shall we continue this conversation?)
Fast forward 7 years. We made the farm. We’ve been through our fair share of business start-up financial ‘excitement’, but we’ve supported our family in an area with high cost of living with no outside employment since 2014, and built a successful market garden and a separate successful produce delivery business. We made plenty of mistakes, learned tons, and this past year has ended up being our most successful, despite being burdened by some earlier debts, and being knocked down by the aftermath of last year’s wildfires. We had established a local reputation for head lettuce, sprouts and bagged greens at our local farmers market. We were honing in on the farming operations that were working for us (lettuce and cut greens primarily, and our local delivery service) and shedding the ones that didn’t make sense for our context (olives, chickens).
So why would we move? Why destroy all this momentum? Aren’t we just taking a giant step backwards? Why leave it all behind?
Well, it’s not quite that simple. Here’s my attempt at making sense out of this.
If you go back to our early friendship and dating years, our friendship was centered around a common dream. Deirdre and I had a vision for family life that intrigued us, which to certain extent has developed and matured over the years. Deirdre had caught various glimpses of this dream in her childhood travels; my exposure had been primarily through books, but also some firsthand experience. We dreamed of a family living simply, beautifully, close to God’s original temple (nature!), productive rather than consumptive, steeped in love, actively practicing faith, supported by a farm, keeping work close to family and home, committed to helping neighbors, practicing acts of charity, enjoying robust health through nutrition and natural healing arts, and participating in a vibrant culture of traditional arts (Phew!). And maybe most importantly of all: demonstrating that these values are intermingled and consistent with each other, rooted in our very nature as human beings, although different families will live them out in different ways.
Sometimes pursuing that dream feels like an uphill battle. We’ve certainly had that feeling before. But pursue it we have, and relentlessly. Sometimes when we get a bit discouraged, we sit down and list all the different things we have accomplished at one time or another that move us closer to our vision, and in fact are the living out of that vision in reality.
So, back to the move. The pitch for this big move is that it has simply been shown to us through much prayer, thought, conversation, experimentation and discernment that this is the next step God is asking us to take. This step is going to bring us closer to our vision. To put it most simply:
We have been called. We are following that call.
That being said, I think there is still a lot I can say to give specific reasons that played into our decision that this is truly the best step for us. I want people to realize though that there is not a single one of these reasons that is acting on its own. Only when you add them all up together, does it begin to make some sense.
#1 Cost of Land, Farms, Homes
I start with this one because economic realities are tangible and easy to measure. It’s a hard fact that agricultural land in Southern California is not only hard to come by, it comes with a high price tag, and lives under constant pressure of development. We found more than enough land here to rent (once people saw we could farm successfully, we had to start turning down offers for new land leases), and ag rent rates are good. That is how we started here, and I think renting is the best option hands down for a new farmer almost anywhere. But we don’t want to rent forever, we want to own our land. Buying farmland in SoCal can cost you anywhere from $1-3 million, with few exceptions. I fully believe I could build our farm and delivery business to the point where we could afford this if I made that my goal. But my land-buying money will go so much further in Maine, where farms for sale are more plentiful, and sell for between $200,000 and $800,000. You can’t even buy a house in town here for $200,000. There are many other rural areas around the country that boast the same, but as I said – none of these reasons stand alone. Please read on…
I mention this one second, because it is really the one that tips the balance toward Maine instead of any other area. Without this one, I don’t think we would be making the move. But the fact is that in our 2 visits to Maine in 2017 and 2018, we made a surprising number of friends that have been very welcoming and encouraging. We found ourselves staying up into the wee hours of the night, having conversations about life, family, dreams, faith and everything in between. Two families we met are farmers. Two of them homestead off-grid. The majority of them are self employed, and either live on the land, or are working toward that. One is a sustainability professor at a local college. One is a Catholic priest. Others all share our Catholic faith, and the conviction that the Church has an important role to play in re-grounding society’s roots in the soil and the land. Neither Deirdre nor I could imagine moving to an area where we didn’t know anybody. This makes Maine stand out for us, over other rural areas in the country where we have made no connections. Mainers have been very welcoming, and we are grateful.
Central to our dream has been living in a rural area. Our hearts come alive in rural areas. Most of America used to live in rural towns and farming communities, and now that is flipped toward urban living. Society needs both, but rural is where the roots are. And we need roots, if we are not going to topple. Southern California is so urbanized, it gets stifling. The few rural pockets that exist here are sandwiched by mega-cities and massive wilderness preserves which are off-limits to both residents are farmers alike. We started our family here out of desire to be close to our immediate families (we both grew up here, Deirdre all her childhood, and I since I was 6), but we always felt the urbanization, and were uneasy about it. Our original plan was to save like crazy, and hunker down in one of the few rural pockets left here, but as #1 above lays out, that is a much steeper climb here than elsewhere in the country.
#4 Early Dreams
Deirdre’s maternal grandparents are from New York and Boston, and she spent many happy summers outside Boston with family, and traveled extensively through New England and Eastern Canada in her touring band days. She fell in love with the area then, and wanted to live in New England throughout her teen years, until she married a guy from the next town over in CA (Me!) She is simply reviving that desire from her youth, so in a way this is nothing new. Many of her experiences of inspiration that fueled our common dream came from visiting farms and families in the Northeast.
#5 History and Roots
I have an absolute fascination with the concepts of roots, history and genealogy. When we study history, we study primarily the history of the countries and cultures that we have inherited, because by studying them, you learn something about yourself, and where you came from. All history happens in a certain place. It’s just a fact that most American history happened East of the Mississippi. That’s where our families and heritage came from. Early America was built during a 200 year period of colonial settlement along the East Coast, and won its independence in the same area. Westward expansion has been a defining characteristic of American history for the last 2 centuries, and has increased with shocking speed in just the last 100 years. Our immediate families were part of that trend, which even in the last 30 years brought our parents from their homes in the Midwest and Northeast to California. Now we stretch from Coast to Coast, but our distinctly American culture was born and incubated in the East. Although we do not seek to live like Luddites, much of our common dream involves slowing down the pace of modern progress long enough to look to the past and see what we might have lost along the way that is worth holding onto. We believe firmly that many essential cultural constructs have been weakened or even torn down in the modern age, and it is our mission to revive them. This culture has 400 years of history in the Northeast, and much less in California, and only here by extension. California was settled too fast to develop a rich, distinct culture of its own. So much of what we are trying to live out was once lived out in communities across the Northeast, and there is still a skeleton of that culture stamped into the landscape, and in the hearts and memories of the people who live there. What we are trying to do with our lives could be termed a true revival there, whereas in California it would be better described as innovation. I’m a big fan of innovation, but we feel called to go East and sprinkle innovation as seeds in a pre-cultivated bed of revival. Sound kind confusing? I know – it’s hard to put my finger on it. And it’s pretty personal too.
Farming in New England was based on smaller family farms for centuries; California agriculture has been primarily commercial from the beginning, and depended often on imported water, imported labor, and distant Eastern markets. It’s one reason why many California farms don’t have homes on them. That’s not the farm culture we want to live. California does not have the same history of small family farm communities dotting the landscape. It’s there to be sure, but more so in Northern CA, and much more so in New England.
I could go on and on about various cultural elements that have a stronger history and presence in New England, and I will touch on some of them below. The material point to make here is that we are intrigued to be relocating our family in the very area that produced much of the culture we are trying to live. We feel that we can gain more traction there creating a revival, than we could in CA with an innovation that originated elsewhere. I fully encourage Californians to transform their culture and infuse it with traditional arts, skills and values, but for our part we feel called to take our efforts East. This is one of the hardest ones to explain, but hey, I had to give it a shot. Take it or leave it, it's an evolving intuition.
#6 Contradance Culture
For years, Deirdre and I have danced and played for contradances, and find it one of the most enjoyable social activities, and one that has a mystical power to bring people together and strengthen the glue of society. Contradancing is a strong New England tradition, and is still very much alive there. We play frequently for our most local contradance group (45 minutes away in Santa Barbara), but it is attended primarily by an aging group of dancers that seems unable to attract younger generations. I’m not sure what’s going to happen to contradancing in SoCal, but it’s an uphill battle. This is one example of what I was talking about in point #5 above. It was such a joy to see Maine’s young people contradancing, and the sheer number of dances and groups in the area far surpasses what we have here. While we are immensely grateful for the weekly dance in Santa Barbara, the next closest dances are in Los Angeles, almost 2 hours away. When you combine the fact that Maine’s population is a tiny (about 1/20th) fraction of SoCal’s, and the fact that there is so much more contradancing in Maine, it reveals just how embedded contradance still is in their life and culture compared to SoCal. It has been wonderful to promote contradancing here, but there is a joy and relief that comes from realizing that we are going to live somewhere we don’t have to start from scratch almost every time.
Everything said about dance above can be said about the music we hold so dear as well. Irish music and the related music traditions of England and Scotland have been huge formative factors in the various Maritime, Cape Breton, New England and Contradance music traditions. The intermingled folk music traditions of the British Isles and Ireland found a new home and even a kind of revival through the development of folk music traditions from Maritime / Eastern Canada, throughout New England, and down into the American South. Boston, New York and Chicago are the three main cultural hubs for Irish-American music, and the surrounding areas of the country are more richly steeped in that type of music as a consequence. The majority of the musical and cultural events / festivals we would want to attend are in the Eastern 1/3 of the USA. We’ll be a lot closer to all of them. Not to mention the wealth of traditional and musical events in the immediate locale we are moving to. Unity, ME is home to multiple week-long fiddle camps, just 1 hour away. The highschool in the town we are moving to has a fiddle group at the public highschool, which boasts around 100 students! Local concert series feature regular performances by some of the best traditional Irish, Bluegrass and Cape Breton groups in the US / Canada. We are very excited to be “going home” musically. Folk music is a social tradition, and is hard to maintain in isolation.
#8 Small Farm Scene
Despite its relatively small population and short Northern growing season, Maine is home to some of the rockstar farmers, artisans and farm-related organizations in the modern small-farm revival underway in the US. The Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA) is one of the oldest, most established and most active organizations promoting small scale, family scale and organic farming in the country. They are headquartered in Unity, ME, and boast an impressive arsenal of resources for farmers, including the legendary Common Ground Fair, held annually each September. Common Ground is the biggest fair in the country that specifically celebrates the growing subculture of the greater organic farming and homestead movement. The Maine Farmland Trust works actively to preserve some of Maine’s most “at-risk” farmland threatened by thoughtless urban development, and gives active support to young farmers like us who are seeking land to farm. Legendary farmer/author/inventor Eliot Coleman resides and farms in Maine. My personal #1 market gardening mentor/author/farmer Jean-Martin Fortier farms only 4 miles to the Northwest near Montreal. Johnny’s Selected Seeds, Fedco Seeds, Taproot Magazine, Growing For Market Magazine, and the Greenhorns all claim Maine as home. High Mowing Seed Company operates in nearby Vermont. The list goes on and on. There is a real, vibrant subculture of small farming underway in the Northeast, and Maine stands out among the New England States. Not only has Maine seen a higher percentage of young Farmers start farms in recent years than other states, it was also the first state to pass a state-wide “Food Sovereignty” law. We are excited and privileged to participate in and contribute to this growing momentum for family farms, and the support networks to help them thrive.
#9 Long Term Extended Family Investment
This one is a bit hard to explain too. It’s related closely to reason #1 – cost of land. But I’m looking at it from a generational angle, rather than an immediate one. Part of our family vision involves more place-stability for extended families than is customary in our modern, mobile society. We want our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren to be able to settle and start their homes near us if they choose. Ironically, this was one of the very reasons we chose to stay in CA in the first place – we wanted our children to be raised around multiple family generations, and to reverse the modern trend of children leaving their home and settling elsewhere. When I began to think long-term though, I realized the harsh reality of CA real estate, urbanization and access to farm-homes could make it hard for my children and grandchildren to find homes/farms here, and I certainly hope some of them consider farming. I realized that I might pour all my life’s energy and resources into stabilizing my family here, put serious roots down in CA, save to buy a 2 million property, only to see my children move away to find more affordable land elsewhere. I see more opportunity to develop a robust generational family farm culture in the more rural areas of the country, Maine being just one example.
I know, it’s ironic! Here we are leaving our own parents, in hopes that our kids don’t need to do the same thing. I don’t have a perfect answer to this one. But I didn’t personally choose to move to CA, and I didn’t choose to have it settled and developed in this way, and our parents couldn’t have known it would happen when they moved here in the 80s and 90s, and they didn’t know we wanted to be farmers. This isn’t the first time in history that folks decided to emigrate for economic reasons, and made a new start with fresh roots in a new land. My hope is that even if I personally don’t get to live where I was raised, and enjoy the pride that comes with an extended family structure and roots, that I can sow the seeds for my children’s children to enjoy this for themselves. I know, its a gamble, and a very long-term investment that I will only benefit from in part. But it’s a gamble either way, and my intuition is that Maine holds more long-term promise for us than California. It’s a little sad to admit that, but there is something of a pioneer in my veins that feels ready to take this on, and build for the future of my family. Who knows, maybe our parents (none of whom are CA natives) will leave CA themselves someday? Things happen so quickly in this State, it’s hard to know what’s coming.
#10 People Say It Can't Be Done
If you want to see me do something, tell me it can’t be done, and I will go find a way to do it. I know that can sound a little bold and reactionary, but there is really something to this. The more I experience well-intentioned people coming to tell me I shouldn’t do this because of colder weather (#1 objection from most people), shorter growing season, lower population, higher poverty, too many farms, too rural, too risky, too far, etc. the more it makes me want to demonstrate the possibility of things outside their vision. I’m aware of all the obstacles mentioned here, and they are real. But it doesn’t mean this can’t be done. If I can’t convince you of this, then just watch and see. If I’m wrong, I pray for the humility to admit it, learn from it, and move on. If I’m right, I hope the naysayers think twice before being skeptical.
Well, that’s a very summarized version of the conversations we’ve had that are leading us to move from our California home. No one of these reasons stand alone. I hope that laying this out helps to make it more understandable. There is certainly a kind of sadness we feel in leaving the place where we grew up, met, fell in love, got married, had kids, started our first farm… We are leaving behind family members and friends that will miss us as much as we will miss them. But when the Lord calls, we must answer. And we are truly excited and happy of what awaits us in Maine.
Over the coming days, I will be posting a little series of posts related to our move including:
As I was doing some routine tasks this morning on my computer for the online farmer's market we run (Ojai Farmstand), my mind wandered a bit, and I started reflecting on some of the deeper goals I had over 4 years ago when I started the Farmstand out of the back of my pickup with #2 peppers and tomatoes I gleaned from the organic farm at Farmer and the Cook. We've come a long way since then, but the underlying passion that gets me up every morning, and compels me to work through all the challenges of developing a rogue method of local food distribution remains the same.
In a nutshell: the proliferation of small family-run local farms, and customer networks that support them directly.
That's the goal.
It's simple, in essence. It came from this vision of society that takes all the amazing agricultural technology and innovation of the last century, AND at the same time preserves a communal-based structure that defined the American Food System as recently as the 1930s. In A Revolution Down on the Farm Paul B. Conkin describes what it was like to grow up in the 30s in Rural East Tennessee. He uses his boyhood community as an example of what the typical American community looked like from a food / farm perspective. As recently as less than one hundred years ago, it was normal to be surrounded by many family farms of various sizes, and to buy or trade a large portion of your food from them, either directly on the farm, or by supporting local shopkeepers where farmers and their families sold extra butter, eggs, fruit etc...
I don't need to tell anyone this is not the norm any longer. I am truly grateful to have technological innovations that drastically reduce farm labor, and improve quality of life (electricity being one of the main ones!). But the task of my generation is to regain cultural structures and communal ties that have been lost in the process. We don't have to become Amish to do this. I believe simply switching our food consumption habits to local farms would win us a large part of what has been lost.
When you buy from a local farm run by a family, or local individual, there are obvious economic benefits for the community. That money stays local. But that is not the greatest benefit in locally (or farmer-direct) made transactions. Every transaction has the opportunity to build relationships between the seller / buyer, and if those are kept local and/or personal, that relationship has the chance of blossoming into something more than merely a transaction. Transactions which have a personal stamp on them tend to be more conducive to understanding, gratitude and mutual support, which is easy to lose in a modern economy that transacts less personally.
I'm not saying there aren't benefits to modern economies. But let's make some distinctions here. Some things really are better massed produced and shipped far away. If our automobiles were produced by local firms, they probably could not reach the economy of scale needed to make them affordable for the average consumer. But food is different.
Food does not need to be mass produced on the same level as other commodities, and for most of history, it wasn't. In fact, it can often be better quality when it is not! Bio-intensive planting methods like the ones we use on our farm help reach micro-economies of scale that still allow us to remain embedded in our local community. I actually know many of my customers personally, and have had the privilege of helping them in times of need, and they have also done the same for me.
Food is the best commodity to produce and distribute locally, because everyone needs it, and and the factory is lying under our feet. The machinery required to grow top-quality local food is simple in comparison to an automobile factory. Any aspiring entrepreneur can start and run a successful farm on a fairly low capital investment. And if there is one product we should cultivate gratitude for, I would argue that food is a fundamental one. After all, it is what becomes flesh of our flesh and bone of our bones 3 times a day!
So, when I started the farmstand, I said to myself: “I want to see local farms thrive. Everyone in my community eats food. Let's just make it easy for them to shift their food purchases from conventional grocery stores to local farms! At least for the fresh items like produce!”
I'm not selling a new product! Everybody buys food! All I need to do is explain to people why they want to shift their food purchases from one source to another. In reality, it's a little more complex than that, but it helps to keep the perspective simple. My prayer is that every eater thinks every time he/she sits down to eat, and realizes that they are shaping community and culture with their eating and buying habits.
“Changing the Food System” sounds like a daunting task, but connecting one eater at a time with the few local famers that are still trying to stick it out (or just trying to get started, in our case!) makes it attainable. We don't have to wait for everyone to do this! Every baby step taken toward eating from local farms moves us closer to the kind of cultural fabric that held American communities together through struggles like the great depression. And generally, it was the rural communities that fared the best during the depression, because they were able to provide themselves with food.
That's the vision that keeps me going, and motivates me to expand our Online Farmstand to more families and more homes. When customers buy from us, more than half of that money goes straight to local farms. Compared to the 10% of the American food dollar that normally goes back to the farmer, that is a big difference!
If you live in our area, and want to be part of this positive communal change, I invite you to take advantage of our week-long sign-up incentive through Feb 22nd at Ojai Farmstand. The more customers we can find, the more of an impact we can make together. Come be part of the local food community! Your body will thank you, and your community will thank you. If you live elsewhere, I encourage you to join up with the thousands of other motivated folks around the country trying to rebuild communal food systems in their own localities.
We can do this, one grateful bite at a time! Bon Appetit! Cheers!
Max here... I want to write about the dinner I cooked tonight.
Not because it was some fabulous recipe. I want to mention it because it came from a mentality shift I am going through. We have been so busy lately between the Olive Harvest, and getting lots of new plants in the ground. Then, a few weeks ago, our two kids got sick, and the cold hung on for several days before clearing up. Eventually I got it too -- no fun, especially when there's so much to get done. I can't call in sick and just tell the plants and weeds to stop growing for a few days.
My thought was "Why are we getting sick? Don't we lead a pretty healthy lifestyle and fresh diet?" Of course, I realize even the healthiest among us will get sick to some degree from time to time, but nonetheless it made me stop and rethink about what we've been eating lately. I didn't like what I saw.
Can the farmer be too busy to eat his own food? Sounds silly. But I realized we were sliding down that slope. Amidst all the to-do, we found we were eating more and more "quick foods." Not your typical "quick food." But things like more sandwiches made with Ezechiel bread, and a lot of eggs, since they cook up quickly. I'm not saying that those are bad things to eat, but we weren't eating according to our dietary goals inspired by Weston A. Price, and the Sally Fallon's Nourishing Traditions.
We have a freezer full of our very own chickens, but we weren't finding time to make stock and chicken. We do eat salads from our farm every day, but not as much kale, cilantro and parsley as we could be -- all green super foods that should be nourishing our bodies!
So today, I pulled one of those chickens out, and some extra chicken feet we had, and put it in the stock pot to simmer. I walked the farm to see what I could pick fresh for tonight's dinner. I took home Romaine Lettuce, Kale, Green Onions, Ripe Tomatoes, Parsley, Cilantro. Tonight we enjoyed a large salad dressed with our own new olive oil (blog post on that coming soon!!). We had rice cooked in nourishing chicken stock, with kale, cilantro, parsley, garlic and green onion. We added the chicken to the rice, and at last we felt like we were once again eating a traditional, nourishing, delicious meal. And we knew the story behind where it all came from.
And we're going to do it again tomorrow! Here's to picking up wherever you are, and doing one thing to put healthier, fresher food in our bodies, and connect with the story of that food and who grew it!
For those of you that want the "recipe", here it is:
Rice Cooked in Chicken Stock
2 cups rice (we use organic long grain brown)
4 cups chicken stock
Any amount of chicken meat (we use the meat from the carcass used to make stock)
4-6 cloves garlic
A little Butter
Several generous three-finger pinches of salt (we use Celtic Sea Salt.)
Saute the onions in butter until cooked, and salt them well. Add the garlic and cook another couple minutes. Add the rice, stock, salt and chicken, and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer for 1-2 hours until the rice has soaked up all the stock.
Once the rice is done, add freshly chopped green onion, cilantro and parsley and serve. Adding some lemon and butter or olive oil also helps. Add salt if needed.
Hi there! Deirdre here...
Recently I have become really excited about doing traditional crafts, particularly sewing, knitting, crocheting. I often find myself perusing the internet for photos and information on knitting, yarn sources, hand made clothing on etsy, super cute DIY home decor, etc. I started to feel frustrated that I was just dreaming of doing these and was never actually starting to just do them! (I could easily imagine myself still just looking at others' work in a year!!)
So about a week ago I actually went to the arts and crafts store and bought yarn, knitting needles, very basic sewing stuff, and some twine and cute mini clothes pins for a craft project I'd been wanting to do for ages. It felt so good to begin turning my dreams into fruition. Instead of sitting on the couch with my phone in the evening looking at others' stuff, I am sitting on the couch beginning to crochet! I am committing to crocheting for at least a few minutes every day. My goal is to be able to knit and crochet hats, headwarmers, and Christmas stockings. (In my family growing up, my mom knit a stocking for each one of the kids and I always wanted to do the same thing.)
As well as beginning to crochet, I also sewed felt hats for our flower fairy Halloween costumes and have been mending some clothes... very basic stuff but you have to start somewhere! My goal for sewing is to make basic baby clothes, headbands, and especially adorable baby bonnets (with Liberty of London calico).
I hope one day to be able to raise sheep for wool, learn how to spin, and do the whole process from wool to clothes but for now it feels so good to be beginning to connect with generations of other women for whom these were every day important tasks!
Hi Folks, Max writing. As the weather finally begins to cool off here, our summer crops are winding down. Siobhan and Declan enjoyed picking some of the last tomatoes from the vines in front of our house, and we are saving the best ones to sell, and making tomato sauce out of the rest of them. We're also picking the last of our eggplant and basil, and it looks like the zucchini will hang on for a bit longer. We did a much later planting of zucchini -- it was a gamble, but it has stayed warm enough and it is paying off now!
One big change for us going into the fall is that for the first time, we are having a wholesale nursery 40 minutes down the road start our fall/winter crops for us. Up until now, we have grown all our own transplant starts ourselves, with varying levels of success. Even when all goes well, it is one more thing to do around the farm, and we are delighted to be paying the nursery $13 per flat of plants, and they show up to our farm in perfect condition. I no longer have to drive out to farm 2x per day including weekends (plants don't stop needing water on the weekend!) just to water the transplants. I simply supply the seeds to the nursery, and then leave them in the hands of professionals, who have the perfect greenhouse setup, and then I pick them up when they are ready. It's been a huge time saver for us, AND we now have increased yields because of high transplant quality.
About a month ago, we transplanted out romaine lettuce, butter lettuce, salanova lettuce for salad mix, spinach, kale, and green onions. We are now harvesting large amounts of all those crops! We are so excited to have fresh greens again, other than arugula, which grows quite well through our hot 100+ degree summers.
Deirdre here. I keep on wanting to post but life has been so full recently that I don't have time to even step out of it and talk about it. =)
My family has been rehearsing hours a day for a big show that we have tomorrow at a 5000 seat theater in Redlands, CA! On top of that Max and I have been rehearsing for a show we are doing with our band Hidden Fifth in Maine. The practices have been long but I am so excited because I have not played this much music in over 10 years (since my family recorded their last album in 2006)! It is so amazing to be playing so much! Over the last few weeks I have improved so much just by playing and putting the hours in! This experience has reminded me of the important lesson that in order to get good (or stay good!) at something, you have to put in the hours, and do it a LOT!
Last night, we played for a contra dance and usually my hands are really sore by the time the second half comes around but this time I was not sore at all! Loving it!
I am so excited to be playing so much again and am determined to keep it up! I often get frustrated at our inability to carve out time from our busy life to find time for music, but shows force you make the time, and Max and I are determined to keep it up. Max has even been brushing up his dancing for the shows. I want my fiddle and dance students to hear this, so they are encouraged to put the hours in and get the amazing experience of playing that much better!! :) Keep up the good work kids!
The video above is a shot from one of our many band practices at home getting ready for the show! My three young cousins are joining us on fiddle, cello and mandolin, Max is playing flute, and our good friend Margaret is playing guitar. We have had multiple 8-hour says of virtually non-stop practice like this! It feels so good to practice this much!
More home practicing... Our friend David joins us on the pipes!
My whole family playing for a contra dance in Santa Barbara. We almost never get all 5 of my brothers and sisters together for a Contra dance, but last night we did! It may be the last time in a while too!
Hi Folks, Max here. It's great to be sitting down to write again, it's been a while since I felt like I have time for this. The girls are napping on this warm summer Saturday afternoon, and Declan for the moment is keeping himself entertained to give me a moment for writing.
The last several months have been packed with farming, and they certainly have not been without their challenges. I was struck recently with the thought that in our enthusiasm to start this blog, we have focused mostly on the glamour, and haven't talked much about the challenges. I am a very positive-thinking type of person, and I certainly don't like giving off a negative vibe, and I think that was one of the factors that we haven't mentioned the hard times up to this point. But I has some thoughts recently that I want to share with you which lead me to open up a little bit about the challenges as well the fun stuff.
1. First of all, challenges don't have to be negative. It's all about how you choose to see them. This is something our good friend and wisdom-guru Brian Johnson has helped us to see in the last 6 months. Brian makes his living by publishing amazing material that helps people live the best version of themselves, and his advice is stunningly helpful. Two of his insights in particular have been life changing for us: "win or learn" and "anti-fragile" or "the obstacle is the way."
Basically, Brian doesn't ever lose in life, and we don't have to either. He wins or he learns. What many people see as a "loss" Brian sees as valuable data. When things take a turn for the worse, we can take that experience and learn from it for the better. That's how I want to see life! I'm not gonna be a loser!
"Anti-Fragile" means that we aren't just tough, we go one step further. We take obstacles and challenges, and actually turn them into opportunities! When something doesn't go our way, we don't despair. We find a way to take that unexpected circumstance into an opportunity to make us a better person. If approach set-backs with that mentality, something which we thought was an obstacle can turn out to be the means by which we grow closer to our goal.
2. Second, I am a regular listener to Diego Footer's great podcast "Permaculture Voices." Over the last several years, Diego has complied an incredible amount of information in his shows for aspiring and practicing eco-farmers. Two things I appreciate about his show are the fact that he repeatedly emphasizes the need for permaculture-based farms to run themselves as businesses, and he also has no fear talking to farmers about the hard sides of farming, whether that be grueling work, hard start-ups, crop failures, family struggles etc... A regular listener of Diego's show certainly knows that farming is not all romance, and that is really the truth.
So, both those thoughts gave me the desire to share both the challenges and the good times, because we won't be painting an accurate picture of "First Steps Farm Life" if we didn't. We wouldn't want readers of this blog to think that starting this farm is easy. We want people to know it is entirely possible, and we want to encourage others to do it too, but you better know what you are getting into first. Diego does a great job at that. I think we all know, or at least have heard of somebody who started to farm, and couldn't make it work, and gave up. I want to minimize those stories, and having the full picture of farming before starting your own farm can really help.
There are lots of challenges we could talk about, but the one I want to talk about now is fairly unique to our situation. I know that by writing this down, it will help clarify it in my own mind, and help me find ways to turn it to our benefit. In one word, that challenge is "commute."
Let me explain. We don't live on our farm, we live in a two-bedroom, 540 square ft duplex, in the middle of our town. We live on a residential street, with neighbors on all sides, and every day we drive 2.3 miles down the road, to a rural property outside town where we rent 1 acre for the farm. It takes about 5 minutes one way. Not a big deal, right? Well, it has a few consequences that present a challenge to our farm life.
1. First all, we don't get to live on our farm. Emotionally, this may be the most difficult and disappointing for us. Both Deirdre and I have this insatiable craving in our souls for rural living. We want to fully live the farm experience, day and night. We wanted to raise our children on the farm as a way of life, and have that be their home environment. Our home is of such immense importance to us, and we value so much making our home a beautiful, enriching place to live. We want to be able to throw that love and energy into our farm, but when home and farm are two different localities, we find ourselves torn.
Do we spend our precious time, money and energy into building a front-yard garden that will enhance our home, or do we invest those resources into productive beds on the farm, that will return a greater profit to make us financially stable? If home and farm were in the same place, this would not be an issue. Are farm would BE our front yard garden, and we would have the double incentive of knowing that we are making a profit, and beautifying our living environment at the same time!
2. Moving beyond the emotional pull, there are some very practical ramifications too. One is that we have to pay rent for our farm land, AND we have to rent an expensive urban home at the same time. That's a lot of money. We would be willing to live in a trailer on our property to save money while we get started, and that would have saved us tens of thousands over the first 3 years. Too bad it isn't legal, and our landlords like to stick by the rules! We are left with the bill.
A few months after starting the farm, we quickly realized that our 1 car was not enough. We had to buy a 2nd car, because while I commute 2 miles away to go farm, Deirdre needed to be able to get around too, including to go teach her Irish dance class once a week. We tried to do without for the first few months, but after wasting tons of gas and productive time dropping each other off, and picking each other up, and biking with a load uphill in the dark at the end of a hard day on the farm, we had to get the 2nd car. We found a great used van for $2600, but man, we didn't exactly have that lying around to spare! Now we have the cost of registering and maintaining both vehicles.
3. Another expense, whether we bought the 2nd car or not, is the commute itself. We usually end up driving back and forth 2-4 times round trip per day. That's 10-20 miles and 20-40 minutes per day, burning gas, and using our own productive time just to get there and back. Sometimes the trip out at the end of the day is just 5 minutes to turn the the swamp cooler off in the greenhouse, or switch a new line of sprinklers on. But that 5 minute chore turns into a 15 minute chore when you don't live on site!
4. That brings us to #4, which is that sometimes we just don't go out and do that 15 minute chore. At the end of an exhausting day, with cranky kids at 9:00 pm, getting in the truck and driving out to check the greenhouse does not sound like fun. There have been plenty of days that we decided to just leave things the way they were, and then we come out the next day to to wilted plants that badly needed a shower the night before.
5. #5 is kids. If Deirdre and I were just a couple, this aspect of farming would not be nearly such a challenge. It's not too hard to jump in the truck and drive out to the farm with another adult. But once you make a decision that you want to this as a family, and you want your kids to grow up around the farm, then logistics get more complicated. The hat, water bottle and sandwich I would have grabbed for myself turns into baby carriers, stroller, diaper bag, 4 water bottles, snacks, books, baby dolls, and the kitchen sink. A 5-minute prep becomes a 30-minute packing routine. By the time you make it out to the car and get it loaded up, somebody has to go to the bathroom, or is crying because the car-seat buckle is too hot. The bottom line is that it takes a LOT more time to get out there with the family!
6. You can't have two sets of everything. With all the constant hauling stuff back and forth between home and farm, something often gets left behind in the wrong place. I use my tools at home and at the farm, and all too often, I forget that I left that wrench behind, and need to hop in the car to go get it.
That gives you an idea of what "commute" means in our context. Most commuters probably don't load their family into the car and take them to the office each morning. I admit, this challenge is definitely a unique set of circumstances!
On the flip side, here are some positives, and also ways we deal with it.
1. We came to this farming dream without any home or land to our name. By being flexible and willing to consider the commute, we were able to get started without owning anything.
2. If we lose our ag lease, at least we don't lose our home!
3. We get the advantages of living in the city, like parks, easy shopping and community, and have a private rural spot outside of town!
4. We live only 2 blocks away from our downtown weekly farmers market. Being able to run the kids home mid-morning for a snack and bathroom break is a huge advantage over growers that have to drive to get there.
5. Sometimes getting away from the house and kids lets me focus on farm work without family distractions.
There are several ways to cope with this handicap and make it more workable.
1. Most importantly, better planning ahead of time. Know what you need, pack it up first. Plan what needs to be done, and get it done all at once, so you don't need to drive out again later because you forgot.
2. We bought a timer for our sprinklers which we can set to turn on and off at a certain time. We still need to open up the right lines manually, but at least we don't need to drive out to turn them on AND off every time.
3. Some days I just bring my lunch out with me, and don't come home until the end of the day. That is hard, because I miss my family, and one of the main reasons I am farming is to spend more time with them. But some days, it just has to happen, and it helps cut down on gas and time, and lets me focus with no distractions.
4. For the future, there are more things we could automate and get hooked up to timers. That is a goal for the future.
So, that's our commute! Finally, we know that if we can succesfully handle the management challenge of a farm-at-distance, we will be all the more equipped to set up a productive, profitable hometsead farm in the future. Remembering that we are building a skill-set now that will stay with us wherever we go is the encouragement that keeps us going when the going gets tough.
One final note: although this is a challenge, it is a necessary one for us if we wanted to start farming in our current situation. I would not want others to be scared away by this challenge, and if a distant farm is the only way for you to start farming, then go for it! Take this advice to know ahead of time what you will be dealing with, and take these as suggestions for ways to make it doable.
That's all for now folks. Until next time...
.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!
Hi Folks, Max Speaking. As we begin to wrap up 2016, and especially since we didn't post much this year on our original farm blog, we thought we would outline some of the farm highlights of the year.
We started the year with our brand new 14x32 foot greenhouse -- quite an upgrade from our previous Harbor Freight 6x9 foot house! Lots of room to grow microgreens now...
We quickly realized that once the days got warmer, we would need a shade cloth to keep excess heat out of the house during the day. We bought an 80 percent reflective shade cloth which works quite nicely. It came in handy on summer days that got up to 112 degrees...
Deirdre took a trip for a friend's wedding in January, so I had Siobhan all by myself for 4 days, including two farmers markets! Nothing like a seasonal cherimoya, a tricycle and a family of baby dolls to keep a little girl happy on a long market morning!
The next day we had another market, so this time Siobhan wanted to bring her violin and busk by the stand just like she has seen her parents and cousins do as well. She earned $6 in about 5 minutes, and she doesn't even know how to play yet!
Toward the end of January, we shaped a lot of new beds. For the first time, we shaped beds all the way from the center of our 1-acre leased property (where the greenhouse and main washing station is) to the edge by the ranch road. 32 beds in total at the time this pic was taken. At the time, we were digging them all out by hand with shovels, after making one pass with the rotary power harrow mounted on the back of our BCS walking tractor. Even though you see our 4-wheel tractor in the background, it did nothing to help us, because it is too big for our 30-inch bed system, and it was not even starting at the time we made the beds.
We helped Siobhan shape and plant her own 10-foot garden. Proud future farmer. (maybe!)
Even though we are in the middle of a drought, we still had at least one rainy market that month. Rain is great for plants, but not for market customers. You don't see too many customers traipsing around the market today, but a farmer and her daughter are making the most of it!
February: Up until now, the only storage we had on the farm were some portable "garage" tents from Harbor Freight, which were set up directly on the soil, with just a dirt floor. Once the rain came, they got extremely muddy, and the stakes came out of the ground in windy weather. It only took dragging a 17 foot tent back home out of neighbor's orange orchard once to convince me that we needed to figure out o more permanent solution. Since we lease the property, we didn't want something all that permanent, so we settled on a wooden floor, secured by concrete pier blocks, with new tents bolted into the frame. I recruited my two brothers and a friend, and we completed most of the job in one day. I finished the rest myself another day. We used a bunch of old pallets as the support for the floor, built a secured frame around them, and then put plywood over the top which tied everything together. Having just built a similar frame for the greenhouse a few months earlier helped a lot when designing this one. We now have 36 feet of very usable storage and workspace -- this really turned out to be a great investment.
Happy Valentines Day from First Steps Farm! Micro Amaranth and Endive make a nice valentine flat. This brought a lot of traffic to our market booth!
What the heck!? How did SHE get up there?
Spring crops growing in mid-February.
Deirdre and our worker Gillian filling orders for Ojai Valley Online Farmstand in our awesome new packing tent. No dirt floor to get all muddy! The wooden floor has been amazing, especially during rainy days!
Mid-March. Crops of Garlic, Lettuce and Arugula. Gillian is weeding in the background.
April: Up until now, we only had two normal sized refrigerators for our produce. This really wasn't enough for our needs, between the produce sales for the webstore, and our own produce. We found some descriptions online of projects where people took a trailer and converted it into a walk-in cooler on wheels using an air conditioning unit and a "Coolbot." We bought a 5x8 trailer in April, and started the project ourselves. It got placed on hold for several months, and we only finished it a month ago. More details on that in a post of its own later... below my brother Tom using a sawzall to cut the whole for the AC unti.
In may, we got permission from the Ojai Market manager to bring more than just microgreens. Thi was great news for us, because now we are allowed to bring and offer for sale all our vegetables. We kicked it off with beets, kale, lettuces, green onions, cilantro, salad mix and arugula.
We experimented with growing sunflower microgreens right out in the garden, instead of in greenhouse flats, and it worked pretty well!
June: Declan was born! This put farming on hold for a while -- except for the essential chores and harvesting to keep things going. Deirdre will be posting the whole story of Declan's birth from her perspective in another post...
Three weeks old -- Declan's first time at the farmers market!
July: I tried out some yellow sticky traps to catch some of the flea beetles ruining all our arugula crops. Zucchini, Curly kale and cherry tomatoes grow in the background.
Declan, 6 weeks, at the Santa Barbara Farmers Market.
When we decided to have a 2nd child, it sounded like adding more craziness to an already crazy schedule and life. Ironically, since Declan was born, we have ended up getting more done than ever before, because it forced us to be more organized and efficient with our time. For the last year or so, the farm had been largely my project, with Deirdre helping out only on webstore packing days, and at markets. Since Declan's birth though, we have managed to get out to the farm as a family multiple times a week, and Deirdre has taken a much more pro-active role in planning and working on the farm. It can still be a HUGE challenge to get both kids out the door in a timely manner, and keep them both happy and out of trouble, AND try to get some work done at the same time, but we committed to getting out there as a family every morning even if it felt impossible. It has been getting more manageable the more we do it.
Since the farm got a little bit neglected around the time of Declan's birth at the beginning of the summer, there was some serious weed clearing to do as the first part of our "back to the farm" family adventure. Clearing weeds and driving them over to a burn pile on the ranch was what we did for the first few days.
What do we do with our kids while we farm?? Anything that will keep them happy and safe! I even was able to get some tractor work done with Declan strapped to my chest. Working with him on our back is a now a normal part of our workday, whether on the farm or at the market.
Napping in the shade of tomato vines.
Siobhan watering some of our transplants.
Siobhan picked 6 bunches of turnips all by herself, and sold them at our market booth. She is not shy at marketing, and sold them all in about 15 minutes! She used her money to buy a popsicle and popcorn from two of our neighbor vendors at the market. Declan was trying to eat the greens...
Need to keep a market baby contained? Just pop him in a box!