Discover more from Donita Reason
Get Me Bodied
Before I jump in, just want to say thanks to everyone who has reached out about my book. Feels like I just exited the writing cave and will soon be entering the newborn/milk cave, so for the next few months this newsletter is probably where I'll be writing the most, as well as sending updates about the release (May 29!) and events (including a Seattle launch event that I am very excited about!). Here's a link to pre-order the book online; I also encourage you to order it at your local bookstore or request it at your local library. And, if you know of any moms, pregnant, or non-pregnant people who might be interested in my work, please pass the info for the book and this newsletter along to them! I think word of mouth will be how this book ultimately finds its way in the world. Thanks, as always, for reading.
🤜🏾 🧠 🤛🏾
Get Me Bodied
22 Feb 2018
For the most part, my second pregnancy has been blissfully uneventful and pleasant (more heartburn, new levels of physical tiredness, and the small but ever-growing separation between my abdominal muscles notwithstanding). I've stayed active and felt strong, dancing every week and, just today, going on a hike (up the same mountain where, eight years ago, I proposed to Will that we propose marriage to each other).
But the last month of this pregnancy has also been incredibly difficult, a surprisingly emotional end that, for the last few weeks, has really thrown me off my game. At my 33-week appointment (I'm 39 weeks now), my doctor noted that the baby was in a transverse (sideways, basically) position. More importantly, the baby was not head down, which is what most babies are after 32 weeks. He told me that there was still plenty of time, but that by 36 weeks he really hoped to see baby turn head down. After that, space is much tighter in the uterus and it gets that much harder for even a tiny person to move around. He then told me, matter-of-factly, that the hospital where I plan to give birth does not deliver a transverse babies and would not even allow me to labor. (There's really no physical way to push a horizontal-lying baby out of a vagina.) Instead, I would be scheduled for a C-section.
Noli's birth was long and bonkers and, ultimately, ended with a near-emergency C-section. I am grateful for that surgery. But for me recovery was, honestly, long, frustrating, and kind of terrible. I've been hoping to avoid that this time around and have a vaginal birth. So I immediately set to work trying to flip the baby. I called a friend who had successfully turned her two children, who were both breech up until 36 and 37 weeks, head down. I spent a lot of time on a website called Spinning Babies. I did forward-leaning inversions off my couch, had Will burn moxibustion sticks (an element of traditional Chinese medicine made of dried mugwort—think fat incense sticks) by each of my pinky toes twice a day for ten minutes, did handstands and touched the bottom of swimming pools, started getting weekly chiropractic adjustments, and, when sitting around at home, placed a heating pad in my crotch and a pack of frozen cauliflower on the baby's head to try to get it to move towards warmth. I sometimes substituted a flashlight or earbuds playing everything from classical music to Solange as a substitute for the heating pad. I did a combination of these things daily, faithfully for a month. (All while working, raising a toddler, co-managing a household, and trying to remain a supportive partner.) None of it worked.
Because of my previous C-section, the conversation at my appointments began veering towards "other options" and "making other plans." Will and I had a fairly disastrous consultation with an OB (we usually see a family physician, the same man who cares for all of us and also delivered Noli), who told us that she recommended scheduling a C-section on my due date because, though it is very rare, my "advanced maternal age" and "elderly pregnancy" created the chance that, after 40 weeks, "your baby could die."
I'm pretty good at advocating for myself in medical situations and asking for details and statistics (and, ahem, I just wrote a book about it), but that shut me up pretty quickly. It wasn't so much that I was scared, which was obviously the point, but that, in the moment, the woman basically became dead and useless to me. On the way home, I told Will that I regretted not saying to her immediately, "Bitch, if my baby dies after February 27, it's not because I am 40."
Last week, on Valentine's Day and as a last resort, we went to the hospital for an external cephalic version (ECV). An ECV is about as primal and simple a procedure as you can imagine: a doctor, using just her hands, grabs hold of the baby's head from the outside and pushes it into a head-down position. (In this case, it was actually two doctors, one gripping our baby's head, which moved easily, the other pushing on the butt, which was harder to maneuver. Also, our family doc, because he is just the best, showed up just to be there for us.) The version itself took about two minutes, though we were at the hospital for a few hours (because of the risk to the baby and the chance that you might go into labor, they monitor mom and baby before and after). I closed my eyes and took deep breaths through the whole thing, thinking of one of my best friends, who at the exact same time was in a hospital in California giving birth to her beautiful baby girl. I tried to tap into that strength. Will, who watched it all, said it was on one of the most intense things he's ever seen (I will say there is A LOT of pressure and force needed to do this thing). But: It worked. ECVs have about a 50% success rate, so we were lucky. I left the hospital elated, and with fingertip-shaped bruises all over my belly.
The day after the version, I went to a myofascial release massage, one which I had scheduled before the procedure because I'd heard it was helpful with turning babies. I'd never seen this practitioner before; she was just a random person I found on Yelp. The touch she used was a lot lighter than what I am used to from a massage and, for the last portion of the session, she spent time on my abdomen and hips. Afterwards I asked her if there was anything my body was saying that she thought I should know. She said the most noticeable thing was a distinct pattern of tension across my abdomen, and then proceeded to gesture slightly diagonally across her body, tracing the EXACT position the baby had been been wedged in for months, the head tucked very high in my torso, below my right lung. This woman knew nothing about the baby's position, and yet she knew everything. I marveled at what our bodies hold on to, how they keep the record of everything that has ever happened to us.
I left full of wonder, but also full of questions: What makes a baby get "stuck"? Is it the patterns of daily movement? Scar tissue? Past trauma? Did the baby cause the pattern of tension in my uterus or did the tension hold my baby tightly in place, preventing movement?**
One thing I realized, with absolute certainty, was that over the past few weeks, I'd managed to work myself into a tight, miserable ball of tension, anxiety, fear, and sadness. I spent a lot of time assuring myself that I would be okay no matter what happened, that the delivery method didn't matter—just my health and the baby's. I unequivocally believe this, and yet I experienced some of the worst emotional lows that I've had in years. Like hours of ugly crying, sobbing, and wailing.
For a full month, what I had truly been battling was not the thought of having another C-section, but the thought that there was something inherently "wrong" with me. I knew rationally that it wasn't true, but I also realized, in a physical way that was inescapable and that I was dealing with all the time (try forgetting about your body's problems when there's a small human squirming around in it all hours of the day), that this was a feeling I've been fighting for most of my life. I imagine that nearly everyone does this, to a certain extent, but being brown and round and loud adds another layer to the whole thing.
I have had to fight these feelings—simultaneously being too much, not enough, misunderstood, not seen—all of my life and now, it seemed, the messages were coming not just from society or pop culture, but from inside my own house, my own body, my core, the life I am so proud to be growing and full of.
Also, while I made peace with the jagged story and experience of Noli's birth a while ago, I had to reckon with the fact that the physical trauma of it (I'd argue that all birth, to a certain extent, is physically traumatic) still exists. And it isn't something that exists in the past—turns out it's right here, in my body. In fact, it played out, in real time, in my body, during that terrible appointment with the OB. At one point, as she was talking about inducing labor (something I have also been through and don't particularly want to go through again), and going on about things like foley balloons, pitocin thresholds, and timeframes of progression, I had a visceral reaction. Will said he watched me physically recoil and withdraw and change into some other sort of shape before blurting out, "Yeah, I don't want any of that shit."
In the week since the ECV, I've been getting Braxton Hicks contractions (nothing like active labor, think of them as uterine stretches or warm-ups) and I can feel the baby settling deep into my pelvis, pushing on nerves, giving me weird gas and butt pains and the distinct, white hot sensations I like to call "vag-ightning"(⚡️ you're welcome⚡️). All signs indicate that baby is finally where s/he needs to be and now we are just waiting for labor to start. Any day, any moment, now. While I'm relieved that the version worked, I also know that doesn't guarantee a vaginal delivery. I also understand that, even if this baby's birth ends up being an easy, straightforward affair, the things I've been grappling with are not going to go away. But for now, it's enough.
A while ago I read or heard some quote about how life begins with an inhale and ends with an exhale. It's a good reminder of the power of breath, which I harnessed to get through the version and which I'll be using soon enough to get through labor and delivery.
I am living on an exhale right now—feeling relief, letting go of the extreme tension of the last few weeks, freeing my mind and body and, of course, this little babe, to make the necessary shifts and moves for birth. I feel it happening and I am hopeful. I am no longer holding my breath.
🌬 🌬 🌬
**Coincidentally, I feel like there is something like a little uterus moment happening right now. I recently read (and loved) this Jami Attenberg "Letter of Recommendation: Hysterectomies" from the NYT Magazine. Lena Dunham also published a piece in Vogue about her decision to get a hysterectomy (I can't bring myself to link to it, sorry, because I kind of can't with Lena Dunham, but it's worth a read if you are interested).
Also, a few weeks before my version, one of closest friends, out of the blue, texted me to tell me about a conversation she had with her mother about the hysterectomy she, who is now in her 80s, had when she was in her mid-60s. She asked her mother, "Can you feel the absence of your uterus after your hysterectomy? Did it change the way you felt internally?" Her mother's answer? "Only during orgasm. It was so sad. It took all the depth out of that contraction and completely changed the way it felt."
If you're anything like me, you'll be thinking about that answer for the rest of your life.