Pepper’s Birth Story

Sorry, Pepper. You’re the second child, so the three readers of this blog haven’t heard anything about you yet. My pregnancy was so, so wanted and so, so hard. I was sick from week 6 through week 17 or 18. I attempted to potty train your sister during that time (epic fail), and I ate a whole lot of potatoes. And then I started to feel better nausea-wise, and simultaneously my body started to complain about being pregnant. Excruciating round ligament pain, then hip pain.

By the third trimester, I was feeling a bit better. Moving more helped, as did acupuncture and chiropractic care. Long walks were my jam. I had a beautiful Mother Blessing party with a small group of friends. I made a cast of my belly. I loved feeling you move much more than your sister because my placenta wasn’t anterior this time.

And then I started to get itchy all over. At 35 weeks, I was diagnosed with intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy, which is a liver disorder that causes levels of bile acids to be elevated in the bloodstream and, in the worst case scenario, can lead to stillbirth. Because I had a very mild form (the highest my bile acids were was 18.2; anything above 20 is considered moderate and above 40 is severe), the midwives at our birth center monitored me closely, but did not send me for a hospital induction right away. The plan was that I would be induced by my due date (April 2), so I had a non stress test every week and monitored your movements much more diligently. Luckily you passed most of the NSTs with flying colors, with the exception of one where we had to blow a bicycle horn at my belly. You jumped then and I made sure to eat a big breakfast before the NSTs from then on.

As freaked out as I was initially, the cholestasis was a great perspective-giver. I stopped working early, stopped teaching prenatal yoga, and was able to focus on my last weeks of pregnancy in a way that I don’t think I would have without it. We were a bit worried, but felt good about the medication I’d been prescribed, as well as the conservative and thoughtful way our midwives were taking care of us. I had time to buy labor snacks and pack a bag—things I never had time for before your sister’s birth.

I assumed that you’d come early, like your sister who was born at 38 weeks and 1 day, especially since the midwives started doing cervical checks and sweeping my membranes at 38 weeks. I had a few crying breakdowns with my sweet midwives about being tired of being pregnant and of having contractions come and go. At 38 weeks and 3 days I thought my water had broken and went in for a check. It hadn’t, so I cried again.

At 38 weeks and 6 days, my favorite midwife (Rose, a midwifery student who was our doula with Plum) called and said that they were scheduling my hospital induction for the following week, but that starting the next day (39 weeks), I could have a “midwife induction,” which consists of castor oil and herbs/homeopathy/acupressure. Rose was on call the next day and your dad didn’t want to go to work, plus I was just so done being pregnant, so we decided to report to the birth center the next morning. I called Elena, our cousin who was planning to be there, our doula Andrea, and Johanna, our sibling support person, who was going to stay with Plum during the birth. It turns out that Johanna had been diagnosed with strep throat over the weekend, but luckily would have been on antibiotics for 24 hours by the time we needed her the next morning.

I went to bed as usual Monday night, waking with so many thoughts in the early morning Tuesday. I took a benadryl so that I could go back to sleep and woke up at 7:30ish. Your dad got up then too, and we got Plum ready for the day. I got the car seat situated to bring you home later and had breakfast. Johanna got to our house around 9:30 and she took our last picture as a family of three. I cried in the car after we left Plum.

We got to the birth center around 10 am, and I got a cervical check and had my membranes swept again. I was 5 centimeters dilated with a soft cervix. I’d been walking around 4 cm and 50% effaced for a few weeks, but it was still a good sign. I drank 4 ounces of castor oil in a green smoothie around 10:30 am and then Andrew and I went for a walk in the hilly, strange neighborhood behind the birth center. We got back around 11:15 or so and then hung out in the Peach Room. Reading books (I read When Dimple Met Rishi and Andrew read A Random Walk Down Wall Street), eating snacks, visiting with each other. It was a really different way to start labor. I pooped some, but not the BIG POOP that sometimes accompanies castor oil.

I’d been having contractions on and off for the past 24 hours at least, but they were still pretty irregular. At 1:30 or so, Allison (another midwife) came in to put acupressure beads on my wrists and feet and to get me started with some homeopathy. They decided not to give me herbs since they can be hard on the liver. I drank something homeopathic every 15 or so minutes (Andrew was in charge of that) starting then. I also found that I could rub the acupressure beads and give myself a contraction. My contractions were still variable 3-7ish minutes apart and, while I was breathing through them, I could talk in between no problem.

About 2 pm, Andrea and Elena got there. Andrea’s notes said that I was “chipper and chatty” then. At some point Andrew teased me that I still had my clothes on. We kept going with the homeopathy and my contractions got more intense, to the point where I was vocalizing loudly instead of just breathing through them. At about 3 pm, Rose came in and said that we could stop with the homeopathy because I was in active labor. At 3:30 pm I was done with my clothes, and then I got in the shower.

I labored in the shower for 45 minutes or so, during which I puked, which was gross. Our nurse Jen put peppermint oil on the walls so I wouldn’t have to smell the vomit smell. I got in the bed and alternated between child’s pose and side-lying to rest, getting up onto the bean bag for some contractions.

Around 5:30 pm Rose checked me. I was about 9 and a half centimeters and with a bulging bag of waters. I think her exact words were “water balloon in your vagina.” I moved around from the bed, to standing, to the bathroom/toilet. They filled the tub for me and I got in, but hated it and got right out again.

Rose told me that I could push if I wanted to and I realized that I really didn’t want to. I pushed for 4 hours with your sister, and I was just not interested in that again. I told her I was scared to push and she gave me a pep talk. I don’t remember much of what she said, but I do remember her touching my shoulder and how supported I felt by her—and by everyone.

At 5:45 I got back on the bed and started pushing a bit on all fours. Around 6 pm, Rose broke my bag of waters, with a HUGE gush. (Later she said that she wouldn’t break someone’s waters again without putting down way more towels). There was a little bit of cervical lip in the way still, so Rose held it out of the way while I pushed your head down. I was semi-reclined on my back at that point and then your heart rate dropped a little, so I turned onto my side. I felt so much more competent pushing this time, but it was still not pleasant. I definitely pooped as I was pushing you out.

I did love reaching down to feel your head. And I also loved it when I complained that it was really hard and Rose told me that in 5 more pushes we would meet you. She was right, and you were born at 6:44 pm. You cried RIGHT AWAY and you were bright pink. When your dad saw your genitalia, he cried, which I loved. We tried to bring you to my chest, but your umbilical cord was short, so you hung out on my belly, until your dad cut it and you could come cuddle with me.

I got stitched up. You nursed voraciously almost right away. We went home at 1:30 am and you met your sister the next morning.

We are so glad you are safely here with us. I am so thankful for the support and expertise and love of our entire care team. It is an incredible privilege to have gotten to welcome my two wonderful babies in such a sacred, safe, and special way.

Chickpea curry

Our wonderful doula brought us this curry just after Plum was born. It was so good then, and it’s so good now. I’ve also cooked the potatoes and carrots together in the Instant Pot so that the only monitored cooking you have to do is sautéeing the onions, adding the rest of the veg and sauce, and heating it all up.

1 can coconut milk
2 TBS yellow curry paste
1 TBS palm sugar
1 tsp turmeric
1 large carrot, cubed
2 medium potatoes, cubed
1 cup green beans, cut into ½ inch pieces (I just whatever veggies are in the house – broccoli, sweet potatoes, squash, whatever)
1 can chickpeas
1 medium onion, cubed
1 tsp grated fresh ginger (or 1/2tsp ground ginger)
2 TBS of coconut oil (or olive oil)
1 tsp of salt

Heat the oil in a deep skillet. Saute the onions until almost translucent. Add potatoes, carrots, green beans and grated ginger, cook until almost soft. While that is cooking slowly whisk the coconut milk with the yellow curry paste, turmeric, salt and palm sugar. Pour over the vegetables, add the chickpeas and bring to simmer. Cook for about five more minutes. Serve over white or brown rice.

Homemade chicken noodle soup

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Buy a whole chicken and cook it any kind of way. I cook mine in my Instant Pot (chicken breast side down in pot, add a cup or so of water, high pressure with natural release for 30-60 minutes depending on the chicken’s size and how frozen it is).

Next, let the chicken cool and remove all the meat from the bones and skin. I store the meat in the fridge, add the bones and skin to a big pot and then cover them with lots of water and boil on high all day long, adding more water as needed so the carcass stays covered. You can also make stock in your Instant Pot (there are plenty of suggestions for best practices online). The stock should get cloudy and the carcass should fall completely apart. The longer you boil it, the yummier it will be.

During the last hour or so of cooking the stock, chop an onion and several carrots*, and saute them in another large pot until onions are translucent and carrots get soft-ish. Then I pour the stock I’ve just made over a fine mesh strainer and into the onion/carrot pot. Roughly chop half the chicken and add it, too. (The other half of the chicken can go into the freezer or you can add it all if you want very chicken-y soup).

I season up the stock at this point: salt (don’t overdo here; you’ll add more at the end), pepper, marjoram, sage, rosemary, parsely, and any other spices that seem chicken soup-ish. Add a bag of frozen peas and cook over medium heat for 15-30 minutes to let the peas get to the texture you like and the flavors go together. In the last 5-10 minutes, add your noodles. If you’re using egg noodles, they cook very quickly. If you’re using different pasta, it might take longer. I often add the noodles and then just turn off the heat on my flat top electric stove, cover the soup, and let it sit ’til we’re ready to eat. Add salt to taste here, too, if you’d like.

*You could add celery here, too.

 

Plum at nearly 19 months

WALKS confidently and most of the time, though still looks like a toddler and likes to crawl for occasional funsies.

Makes all kinds of facial expressions; she’s probably best at surprised faces and furrowed brows

Eats most everything; especially loves cheese, blueberries, sauces (aioli, ranch dressing), and donuts

Says more words than we can count. Most are recognizable to us, but still somewhat toddler-ified

Climbs confidently onto everything, including tables if we let her (we usually don’t)

Has started to communicate about peeing and pooping (sometimes in advance, most often after the fact)

Names and touches/points to body parts on herself and others; we’re trying to limit her to poking herself in the eye

Points to various family members and herself while saying names: “Mama, Dada, Bubba, Zeze, Doggy, Mae [sounds like a My/Mae hybrid]”

Plays peek-a-boo expertly with family via Facetime

So social! Loves riding the bus, visiting with friends, park time, babysitters

Why we skipped the infant car seat

When we were planning baby gear, we didn’t get an infant car seat, we just started with a convertible car seat. I’ve shared our reasoning with several friends, and I wanted to share it here, too.

When you’re talking about a carseat to put a newborn in, you have two choices:

1) Infant car seat: this is the type that you see babies get carried around in and set on the floor in restaurants in. The baby lays in a fairly horizontal position and is low in the car in this type of seat. This is also the type of seat you can clip into some strollers with the right attachment and that has a separate base that stays in the car, meaning you can have one seat and two bases for two different cars. Most of these car seats can also be installed without the base using just the seat belt. Two examples are the Graco Snugride and the Britax B-Safe. These seats are usually safe to 30 or 35 lbs, 29-32 inches tall, or when baby’s head is closer than 1 inch from the top of the car seat, whichever comes first, though if you have this type of carseat, you should definitely check the regulations for your particular model. The limitations on how big your baby can be and still ride safely should be specified on the seat. Babies generally outgrow this seat sometime between 5 and 12 months, depending on baby’s height and body proportions. You could have a baby with a long torso that is still technically within the weight and overall height limits on a seat, but can no longer ride safely because his or her head is not contained appropriately within the top of the seat. Also, a report came out last year that said that babies should be moved out of their infant seat by age one.

2) Convertible car seat: this is the type that stays in the car. Infants might need an insert in order to ride in this type of seat (depends on the seat). The baby can recline at an angle that is safe for their limited head control, but generally sits up higher and slightly more upright than in an infant car seat. You can put very little babies in some of these seats, and then the seats can be used up to much higher weight and height limits. Examples are the Clek Fllo, Nuna Rava, and Graco 4Ever.

Why we chose the Clek Fllo and skipped the infant seat all together:

  • I didn’t want to buy an infant seat that my baby might outgrow in as few as 5 months. I didn’t want to store an extra car seat for the next baby or have to buy another car seat in the first year.
  • I didn’t want to carry the baby around in the car seat or push the baby in the car seat in the stroller. The infant seats weigh at least 7.5 lbs, so add an 8+ lb baby and you’re already lugging a not insignificant amount of weight around. I occasionally lifted the 20 lb twins that I nannied for in their infant seats, and it was a lot. I felt like I would much rather carry my baby in my arms or in a baby carrier. We got the stroller + bassinet because we wanted to have the option of a bassinet to take into restaurants and have a place for Plum to hang out if needed and because I wanted her to get used to hanging out flat on her back in the stroller, which is how we wanted her to be comfortable sleeping (as you probably know, back sleeping is the safest for SIDS prevention). We ended up using the bassinet for sleeping in the house (naps and night time), too, which was a bonus that we didn’t anticipate and which we would not have been able to do with an infant car seat because they are not approved for sleeping.
  • I wanted to have one car seat that would work rear-facing for as long as possible. Our friend who is a pediatric emergency doctor recommends that children stay rear-facing ’til age four. Knowing that we were likely to have a tall/large kid, I wanted to get the seat that would last the longest, and that’s the Clek Fllo. It has one of the highest weight and height limits for rear-facing.
  • I knew that some babies hate the car, and one theory about why they hate it is that they can’t see out. Many convertible car seats allow them to sit more upright. Plum never hated the car, and obviously I don’t know if this is because of the convertible car seat or because she is generally easy going (probably the easy going thing, honestly).
  • We didn’t need to think about switching the car seat back and forth between cars.

All of that said, this is just what made the most sense for us. Most people do start with an infant seat, and I am sure it works very well or else the car seat companies wouldn’t sell so many of them. As a parent, you decide what is best for your family.

Plum at 15 months

Makes kissing noises, blows raspberries, smacks her lips

Cruises all around and does a tiny bit of standing if she lets go of something

Antagonizes the cats and then makes a frowny face when they paw or bite back

Says so many words. Some of the ones we can understand are: Bubba, Dada, Mama, more, dinner, bottle, dog, cat, water

Loves dancing so much, whether she’s sitting or standing holding onto something

Colors with toddler crayons

Nurses only once per day (in the morning, if at all) and loves to drink cow’s milk out of bottles. We are so close to weaning!

Occasionally tries out a hilarious scowl on us

Eats everything, but favorites include: rice and beans with salsa and cheese, steamed carrots, bananas

Still wants to read books all the time, and often brings them to us and plunks herself down in our laps

Can go down the slide by herself (very carefully turns around and slides down feet first on her belly)

Sings along with music or with me singing

Gives hugs/squeezes to people and kisses the cats

Makes her panda and hippo stuffies dance to music

Crawls so fast and in moments of especially intense crawling, determinedly crawls with her head down (more aerodynamic maybe?)

Best homemade lasagna

I talked about this on the most recent episode of Friendlier, but I thought I should share it AND write it down, so that I remember it.

Ingredients
1 lb bulk sausage (I use Harris Teeter Sweet Italian Pork Sausage)
1 onion, chopped
2 jars of pasta sauce (I use one Harris Teeter Arrabiata and one Harris Teeter Garlic Lovers)
12 lasagna noodles (regular, not no-boil type)
16 oz Ricotta cheese
2 eggs
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Freshly grated black pepper
3+ cups of shredded cheese (I use a combo of mozzarella, asiago, provolone, parmesan, romano, and fontina that comes in a bag, but you can’t really go wrong here)

Directions
Brown/crumble the sausage and fry the chopped onion in a deep skillet (I do both at the same time; you can also add some chopped garlic if that’s your thing). Add both jars of pasta sauce to the onion/sausage, turn the heat way down, cover, and simmer for at least two hours, stirring occasionally.

When the sauce is nearly done simmering, bring a pot of salted (very salty) water to a boil. Add lasagna noodles and cook a minute or two less than specified on the noodle package (this should mean very al dente noodles). Drain water and lay out noodles on a silpat, parchment, or waxed paper, so they don’t stick to each other.

Preheat over to 350. Combine ricotta, eggs, half cup of parmesan, and some freshly ground black pepper and mix until uniform. Add a little sauce to the bottom of a 13×9 baking dish (just so the noodles won’t stick), then lay out 4 noodles side by side on top of the sauce. Distribute half the ricotta/eggs/cheese mixture onto the noodles (cover as evenly as possible), then add at third of your remaining sauce and spread out. Sprinkle a third of your cheese evenly on top of the sauce. Add another layer of noodles, followed by remaining ricotta/eggs/parm, more sauce, and more shredded cheese. Cover this cheese with the final four noodles, then cover the noodles with the remaining sauce, and cover with foil. Bake in preheated oven* for 45-60 minutes. Then uncover, top with remaining cheese, and bake another 30ish minutes.

*Your 13×9 will be very full, so it’s a good idea to put your lasagna pan on top of a cookie sheet or foil on the bottom of your oven to save a mess.

P.S. I realize this is only sort of homemade because I use sauce from a jar. Oh, well.