Motherhood

Dear Diary: My 2nd Trimester

Punk Mama Ashley M. has just passed into her third trimester and has shared her second trimester diary with us! If you didn’t read her first trimester diary, start here. We look forward to the next installment as she welcomes her little one!

March 13th, 2017 (12 weeks & 4 days) – First trimester screen. I was nervous about this all weekend and the entire day leading up to the appointment. I mean at this point, I literally just have no idea what to expect anymore. My husband asked if I wanted him to work a half-day and come with me, and like the brave wimp that I am, I declined (I’m learning rather slowly that even though I don’t think that I’m going to want him there I should just say yes). I was so sad that he missed this appointment. This test was an ultra sound and a finger prick. Finally, an external ultra sound! But, it kind of hurt? It definitely wasn’t what I was expecting but in a good way. Within seconds, I saw the head! Two arms! Two legs! Holy cow, there aren’t many things in my life that I would actively go back and change if I could but this is one of them. I wish so desperately that could have had my husband there. This baby would NOT STOP DANCING. Hands in the air waving them around like it just didn’t care. And then! The heartbeat. I heard it for the first time and just couldn’t stop laughing. I think this is the first time that I’ve actually felt a connection. Oh, sweet little baby – I was all of a sudden flooded with the possibilities and in that moment everything was just perfect. The finger prick is a footnote; it felt like a paper cut but I didn’t mind because all that I could think about was that dancing baby.

March 15th, 2017 (12 weeks & 6 days) – If this metal taste does not leave my mouth, I am going to lose my mind.

March 17th, 2017 (13 weeks & 1 day) – Monthly check up. This went terribly, I gained four pounds over the last month and my doctor was NOT HAPPY. I cried the entire time and for a few hours after. The appointment lasted about two minutes, if not shorter, honestly. Just a check-in, rather than check-up. Enough time to leave me feeling like garbage.

March 22nd, 2017 (13 weeks & 6 days) – I walked 11 miles today, E-L-E-V-E-N, whoops. The walking was great and the day was great – I got home and laid to relax and wow (!!) – I can feel my ligaments stretching. This isn’t excruciating yet; it is uncomfortable but it is what it is. Feels kind of funky.

April 4th, 2017 (15 weeks & 4 days) – Disclaimer: I realize that this second trimester I’ve been doing a lot of complaining; it feels like all that I do. I don’t feel pregnant. All of my symptoms have subsided. I’m a chunky monkey so I’m not really showing yet. Some days I probably could forget that I am pregnant.

April 7th, 2017 (16 weeks & 1 day) – First show while pregnant, I was close to the front and right before the band started to play I freaked out a little bit because it was a hometown show. The crowd was excited and I didn’t want to take an unexpected elbow to the stomach. But, guess what? Everything went smoothly – I danced and I had a good time, so Baby Miller’s first show was a complete success! I did, however, sleep the entire next day. I had a blast but boy was I wiped out!

April 15th, 2017 (17 weeks & 2 days) – My cat died a few days ago unexpectedly, and I know that you’re thinking, what does this have to do with anything? Well, it has a lot to do with everything. Max was my best friend, we have been together through so much and he’s been my support system for years. I think that Max knew that I was pregnant before I knew. The first few weeks he was glued to my belly or always by my side just purring and loving on me. For those of you who knew Max, he wasn’t particularly loving to anyone but myself and my husband. This is key though, on the autumn night that we decided to try to have a child our two major pros on our PROS/CONS list: 1) we’re ready; and 2) we wanted our child to have time with Max to be able to look back and remember him. They were going to be best buds, paling around because Max was the best pal. The love I feel for Max will never go away and losing him has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to work through in my life, especially while pregnant. The dreams I had following were weird, a combination of cute and awful. Pregnancy dreams are so bizarre. They’re what I imagine being stuck in a psychedelic trip is like. Wonderful, bizarre, and dark. I cry all of the time; I cry all of time when I’m not pregnant, so now it’s just constant streams of tears. Plain and simple, it sucks.

April 16th, 2017 (17 weeks & 3 days) – The morning after my cat passed away I had my monthly checkup! What fun! What fun! I desperately wanted to reschedule, but at this appointment I was also told that I would be scheduling my gender appointment, so I went in. I had blood shot eyes, a swollen face, and streams of tears. This appointment lasted an hour and a half – I can’t tell you why as I’m not sure myself. They took blood, but I was so dehydrated from crying that it took forever to find a vein. Despite the circumstances, this appointment was far less traumatizing than the last. I actually lost fifteen pounds (this is normal if you’re overweight), the doctor was incredible, and I left feeling much more comfortable about my choice of providers.

April 17th, 2017 (17 weeks & 4 days) – I was lying in bed minding my own business and shoving approximately my tenth peanut butter cup in my mouth for the afternoon and (drumroll, please) I felt the first kick! I gasped and Steve (figured I should stop calling him my husband and give him a name) asked me what was wrong: “Nothing! I think that I felt the first kick, QUICK GET MORE PEANUT BUTTER CUPS.” I didn’t feel the baby kick again for a few days but I did overdose on peanut butter cups. YIKES.

April 24th, 2017 (18 weeks 4 days) –Pregnancy brain is REAL and a constant struggle.

May 7th, 2017 (20 weeks & 3 days) – I spent the day see-sawing back and forth “Is it a boy? Is it a girl? Boy, girl, boy, girl, AHHHHHHHH I HAVE NO IDEA.” I also spent the day easing my nerves with some friends going through some of the old wives tales – all signs pointed to a girl. My gut felt that this little bebe was a girl, but my head was screaming boy boy boy boy! I closed out the evening going through baby pictures of myself because, well, I was a cute baby.

19807446_10213041883669471_1858655869_oMay 8th, 2017 (20 weeks & 4 days) – For some stupid reason I scheduled my appointment at the end of the day, I have no idea what I was thinking (pregnancy brain?). I couldn’t concentrate all day; I was nervous, my appointment was all I could think about. I was actually more nervous about the anatomy scan than the gender scan because like a fool I feel into a Google hole of things that could be go wrong. The time finally arrived so I met up with my husband and to the doctors we went. We got to the room and they explained everything to us and started the scan. I was SHAKING – I just get so nervous all of the time. About twenty minutes in the tech asked what we thought it was and I blurted out “probably a boy.” Her response is something I don’t think that I will ever forget, mostly because my husband laughed so hard, but it was “Well, I can tell you that it’s a girl”. I still cringe when I think about what I said next but my husband and the tech laughed so here it goes, I came back with a “SHUT UP” and I just started sobbing. A baby girl! The first in my family, since me, the cutest baby girl ever of course. We finished up, scheduled a second anatomy scan because sweet little bebe wouldn’t stop dancing around and moving (it seems she was just as excited as we were), and off we went. Immediately after the appointment we headed to Old Navy and picked up our first flowery dress. I was on cloud 9. When we got home we shared the news with our friends and family who were just as nosey and excited as we were!

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May 12th, 2017 (21 weeks & 1 day) – Routine appointment, I think that because the first appointment this trimester was SO BAD that every appointment since has been just golden – the bar is low after that first one. Everything looked fine so I scheduled my next appointment and then they sent me on my way!

May 17th, 2017 (21 weeks & 6 days) – The DREADED glucose test. As I previously mentioned, I am a chunky monkey, so they did this test earlier than usual. Everyone talked this up to being the worst experience that I was honestly just so nervous I thought I was going to barf. I got to the lab, they took the first round of blood, and then they handed me the sugar drink and explained that I had ten minutes to finish. I took a deep breath, and I’m sure that my years of drinking cheap vodka had prepared me for this because I drank it all in one shot – about fifteen seconds. If you’re given a choice, choose the lemon lime flavor – it’s like your roommate put the Sprite back in the fridge after not screwing the cap back on and you’ve stumbled to the fridge first thing in the morning for a nice refreshing drink and you end up with ice cold flat sugary sprite – not the worst situation, but also not the best. Anyways, drawing blood three more times was far more traumatizing than drinking the sugar drink. I finished up and they let me know that my doctor would call if there were any issues with the lab work. (Update: My levels were fine, they just wanted to test me early because I’m overweight.)

May 20th, 2017 (22 weeks & 2 days) – We had a list of boys names prepared, even had narrowed it down to one or two but we had absolutely ZERO girl names picked out. We checked a few books out from the library and spent a few days paging through them. The first name that we scribbled down ultimately was the name that we ended up picking. For us it just felt right. Another thing checked off of of our to-do list, but it feels like her name has been Eloise from the beginning.

May 22nd, 2017 (22 weeks & 4 days) – Maternity clothes are the bane of my existence. A growing middle makes it hard to love the way that you look in anything even if everyone is pointing out how “cute” your bump is. This bump doesn’t feel cute, nothing feels cute, my body feels like a water balloon and I want to cry about it pretty much all of the time.

June 3rd, 2017 (24 weeks & 3 days) – We had booked a vacation the same day that I found out that I was pregnant. We decided to drive, because we’re crazy or something, but in the days leading up to the trip I was becoming increasingly more nervous about being an annoyance and about having to stop so much. I spoke to my doctor at my last appointment and he gave me the go ahead with simple instructions: 1) Move your legs while in the car even if it is just pressing them up and down; 2) Stop every two hours and walk a few laps around the rest stop; and 3) Drink plenty of water! First trip with bebe in the womb! Not bad at all, we stopped about every 1.5 hours, I drank A LOT of water, and just bounced my legs the whole way there and the whole way back. There was a lot of walking on our trip so I ended each day a little sore but really, it was nothing to write home about. Overall, if you’re thinking about taking a trip while pregnant, I recommend it! It was nice to step away from the reality of everything for a week and just relax with my husband and close friends before the chaos of a new baby.

June 5th, 2017 (24 weeks & 4 days) – Second anatomy scan to get a clear picture since bebe wouldn’t sit still the first time. Well, she wouldn’t sit still this time either, so valiant effort but no luck. HOWEVER, because I am overweight I am considered high risk, so as I was checking out the receptionist asked me to schedule my non stress test appointments for the last month of pregnancy. Two a week, plus a regular check up every week for four weeks. I almost fainted. That’s so many appointments! WHHHHHHYYYYYYYYYYYYY? (Obviously I know why but I just like to complain so let me have this.)

June 14th, 2017 (25 weeks & 6 days) – Everybody has an opinion on what you’re doing and how you’re doing it. If they’re not your doctor and you didn’t ask for their advice tell them to be quiet.

June 22nd, 2017 (27 weeks) – A couple days after we returned from Maine I developed a tingly/burning sensation under my armpit and covering half of my right breast. I kept asking my husband if there was a rash, had I been bitten, was it splotchy? Each time he looked at me like I was insane replying “Nothing here, like last time.” Around the same time my migraines became increasingly worse but for some reason pregnancy brain clouded my judgement and I was unable to tie these things together. A few days later I developed a rash in the same space where the burning had been earlier (however I was still too clouded to tie all of these things together). My husband said it looked like poison, maybe from Maine, and we smacked some Calamine on it and called it a day. Here’s the thing, I’ve never had a reaction to poison (I am allergic to E.V.E.R.Y.T.H.I.N.G.), so I spent the week thinking about how strange it was that I was having a reaction now, but then again, stranger things have happened while being pregnant. This rash was borderline unbearable but I felt insane saying that because it didn’t look that bad. It felt like someone was just rubbing sandpaper made out of glass shards all over my side twenty-four hours a day. Once I explained it this way my husband explained that this was not typical of poison but could be SHINGLES. I got into my doctor’s the next morning and sure enough – shingles. As I was sitting in the doctor’s office explaining my symptoms to my doctor I began to connect the dots of this shingles experience and boy oh boy I was pretty ticked off at myself for missing all of the signs. I was prescribed a medicine to help kick this thing faster and the doctor explained that sometimes pregnant ladies just get shingles. WELL, isn’t that JUST my luck. I would not wish shingles on my worst enemy, it is single handily the most painful thing I have ever experienced.

June 24th, 2017 (27 weeks & 2 days) – …and just like that the morning sickness has returned. I welcome you third trimester with open arms (and extra barf bags).

Second trimester thoughts – With the second trimester came a lot of information, even more than in the first. So many exciting things happened in the second trimester that it was just too much to share. I am ending this trimester feeling so much better than I felt at the beginning. I struggled a lot but in the end I know it will be rewarding. It’s hard to believe that we are living in the same season that our baby will be born in (summer!). My heart is so full and the final countdown has begun!

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RIP Max xoxo

Punk Mama interview with the Evening Sun

Last week the Evening Sun shared an interview they did with a few of our mamas. Shawna, Ahna, Ashley, and Sarah met with Lindsey from the Evening Sun to talk about the group and an upcoming fundraiser we’re doing for Carry the Future. To read or watch the interview, click the link or photo below!

‘Punk Mamas’ rock motherhood together thanks to New Oxford woman


Hana’s journey to motherhood through adoption

Punk Mamas’ Hana RW has shared her story of becoming a mother with us, which is heartbreaking, frustrating, raw, and honest…but has a happy ending! This past Mother’s Day, our Punk Mamas Facebook group was made aware how hurtful holiday ads can be to adoptive mothers, as they tend to only target mothers who have physically given birth. And until it is pointed out to you, it’s not something you notice. We are very grateful that Hana has shared with us her journey of motherhood. It is important to us that we show there is more than one way to parent, there is more than one way to welcome a child into the world, and there is more than one way to be a mother. SC

My husband and I had been married for seven years before we felt like we were “ready” for a baby. This is really a different story, but it leads me to my birth story – so, here we go. After about six months of casually trying to conceive, I got pregnant; it was right around Mother’s Day. Along with the usual first trimester blahs, I was excited and nervous and we blissfully went to the first OB appointment with the intent of hearing our baby’s heartbeat. After an annoying amount of paperwork and questions and waiting, we both stared at the monitor waiting to see the little blob on the screen. I’d really been looking forward to getting the sonogram picture and was excited to tell all our friends and family about our new addition. Within seconds, I could see something was wrong on the doctor’s face. She had no poker face at all. Her mouth was taught; her eyebrows furrowed together. Her eyes squinted at the screen and she frantically moved the wand around. She didn’t speak and I didn’t breathe. It probably lasted fewer than thirty seconds, but it felt like thirty minutes. She said, “I’m sorry. There’s no heartbeat.” I heard my husband inhale sharply, but I couldn’t take my eyes away. The doctor and nurse fumbled and someone said they needed to get another doctor to confirm. I thought, “oh good – go get another doctor, because clearly you’ve made a horrible mistake. You are wrong. I feel pregnant, so clearly you don’t know what you are doing.” The second doctor burst in there was more poking and face scrunching and screen staring. He took my hand and said, “I’m so sorry.” And then he walked away.

I can’t really describe what that’s like. It’s devastating. It’s isolating. Not many people knew about the baby we lost, so I felt like I had to put on a brave face and just act like everything was fine and normal. I had to go to work and move forward with my life when all I wanted to do was cry and scream. Those that did know, said things to me like, “just try again” or “this was god’s plan.” My mom patted me on the back and said, “maybe next time.” Maybe next time? These comments were hurtful; hearing them was horrible. Possibly the most unhelpful thing said to me was the nurse at the doctor’s office, who within minutes of being told that my baby had died said to me (as she was drawing blood or I may have punched her in the face), “this is nature’s way of saying the baby wasn’t healthy. It happens.” Thanks, nurse. It does happen. Needless to say, I never set foot in that doctor’s office again. Anyway, after two years of trying to conceive and one year of seeing fertility specialists and countless painful procedures, I threw the white flag up and said I had to stop. I literally couldn’t do it anymore and I had no interest in pursuing invasive procedures and putting myself and my body through any more.

Should we call this phase two? Phase two – adoption. My first thoughts on adoption were this: do some paperwork, blah blah, home study, blah blah, get a baby – pretty basic. I quickly learned, it’s anything BUT basic. It’s exhausting, time consuming, anxiety producing, stressful, and expensive. Adoption forces you to be a parent way, way before you are a parent. You have to jump with both feet, without looking, into the unknown, no matter what the outcome. You have to prove your worth to social workers, to an agency, to a judge, to a birth parent, birth parents, or birth family. You have to prove that you are healthy, financially stable, and mentally prepared. You have to go to counseling and have a social worker come to your home for an inspection. You have to convince many people that you deserve to be a parent, and that you are worthy, when you may be feeling the opposite of that deep down. I felt like a failure. And here I was, trying to put on a smile and convince everyone that my marriage is perfect, my home is perfect, my job is super flexible, and we are a stable family. It took nearly six months to get all of our paperwork in order, clearances done, physicals completed, and home study approved. We had three failed adoptions, before a successful one. Each one was a loss of its own. We lost those babies, though they were never truly ours.

On May 11, 2016 I got a call from our adoption social worker that a birth mom had found our profile on our agency’s website and out of hundreds of families, she wanted us. This being the fourth time we were matched, I was already tired, skeptical, and burnt out from loss. But in adoption, you have to be enthusiastic even when you are not. You have to be ready even though you are terrified. You have to be confident even though you know that this could fall through. Olive’s due date wasn’t until June, so we assumed we had six weeks to prepare. WRONG. Olive’s birth mother went in to labor less than two weeks later.

May 21, 2016 was a Saturday, and like most Saturdays, I was getting ready to go around the corner to our local farmer’s market for my weekly shopping trip. My phone rang around 9am and I saw the number and my heart skipped a few beats and I felt like puking. It was our adoption social worker notifying us that Olive’s birth mother was at the hospital and that we needed to get to Kansas today (we live in Pennsylvania). I panicked inside. I’m not a flexible person. I’m not spontaneous. I’m a planner and a scheduler and an organizer. This wasn’t the first time we were dropping everything to fly across the country, either. This was taking a toll on our bank account, our jobs, our emotions, and our life. I’ve never, ever packed like a hurricane before. I called people. Someone came and got our dog. Oh, and my packing job was terrible, but thanks, Target, for saving the day (I ended up boxing most of what I bought and shipped it home). We flew almost all day, and on our third flight, Olive was born, but she wasn’t Olive yet, and she wasn’t mine yet.

We got to the hospital at around 1am on Sunday. The nurses at the hospital treated me like a threat. They whispered about me. When I entered the birthing ward, I had to say, “Hi. I’m the prospective Adoptive Parent for X-baby” (because that sounds totally fucking natural – it’s not invasive at all). Everyone knew who we were, and either completely ignored us or were very awkward with us. They acted like they had never seen an adoptive couple before, which felt really strange. The nurse walked us to a room as our social worker had arranged for us to have a hospital room just like mothers who birth have. She stood in the doorway and pointed to the bathroom and towels and asked us if we needed anything. Then she said, “let me see if I can get the baby.” In my head and my dreams, I have been wondering for years what this day is like. But after so many losses, I found it hard to be anything but scared. I didn’t want to bond to this baby, because what if like all the other babies – she wasn’t mine. After a few minutes, the nurse returned with Olive. She was swaddled in a little blanket and had a bow on her head. I didn’t know what to do or how to act. I didn’t cry. I wasn’t excited. I just did what I thought I should do. I picked her up and held her. The nurse gave me a bottle, so I fed her. Or I tried to. I either wasn’t good at it or she wasn’t hungry. I don’t know, I just assumed I wasn’t doing it right. The nurse didn’t offer any advice – in fact, she just walked away, which was unexpected. To be honest, I was so tired. I had traveled all day, and I wanted to take a shower, and I desperately needed sleep. The nurse soon came back and took Olive to the nursery so we could sleep, and I was glad for it. I didn’t want to be with her, because I was terrified of losing her. I was also doubting myself that anyone should trust me to take care of a newborn. My head began to fill with doubt and negative thoughts and self-defeating words…don’t attach…she will change her mind…protect yourself. My head was telling me that I should run away…this is too scary…you need to leave. I started to have a panic attack. And all night long, I didn’t sleep. The next two days were much of the same on repeat. I was absolutely TERRIFIED anytime my husband would leave me alone, even if it was only for fifteen minutes to run and get us food. And I mean, this was an intense feeling – the feeling that I was going to die. My anxiety had NEVER been so bad before. And the hospital was of absolutely no help to me. Nurses came in and out to check on Olive, but never offered any advice, let alone look me in the eye. Aside from being terrified, I worried about Olive. She was small and she wasn’t eating great from the bottle. She was gassy and I didn’t know how to burp her the right way. The nurses ran out of the room as soon as they were done checking on her, and I felt too tired and timid to chase after them to ask for help. I felt so defeated and scared that I was going to fuck up and not be able to care for this tiny human. Further, the hospital had only given me a wrist band that matched Olive. That meant that I had to be in the room with Olive at all times. Shawn (my husband) did not get a wrist band, so he could not be alone with Olive. I asked if he could have one and I was told that they only print three, and typically that is two for the parents and one for the baby. One was on Olive’s birth mom, one on me, and one on Olive. That’s it. Not only was I in limbo, but I was trapped. I couldn’t go for a walk. I couldn’t get fresh air. I couldn’t go to our hotel and unpack. I really, really felt like I needed to nest in our hotel. My instincts were calling to me to go to that hotel room and organize and control that environment because everything else was out of my control. But I could not. I was chained to the hospital room and my anxiety. No escape. I was away from all our family and friends, too. There was no one there to help. In between all the other thoughts, I thought of Olive’s birth parents and birth family. They were going to experience loss like I had. I cried for them and for Olive. I was glad that they had agreed to an open adoption, and I vowed to do everything I could to maintain those relationships.

On the third day, our room was filled with attorneys and social workers. This was THE day. The day that I would either become a parent or go home with nothing but a loss I was already well acquainted with. In between my horrible thoughts and anxiety, I had to smile. I had to meet Olive’s birth family and pretend I was over the moon in love, so ecstatic to have her, when what I was feeling was shame, fear, guilt, and remorse. I had to smile at social workers and attorneys. See my big smile? See how good I am doing? Olive’s birth mother is an amazing woman and she lovingly trusted us with her on that day and forever. With the stroke of a pen, the signature of an attorney, and the seal of a notary, we were given guardianship. A few days later, we had to go to court in front of a judge where we were granted temporary custody, and full custody pending we meet the obligations of our post placement visits back home – we would have full legal custody in a month. Although there was a huge burden lifted off of me, I didn’t get the relief that I expected I would from the successful adoption. It took me many, many months to bond and to feel comfortable and to feel ok with being called Olive’s mom.

We had to stay in Kansas for two more weeks in a hotel before all of our paperwork was cleared and we could return home.

Punk Mamas had a few follow up questions for Hana. We knew that Hana had started a Facebook support group for adoptive mothers, and we couldn’t turn down this chance to get it out there! 

How has your confidence in being a mom changed over the last year, and were there any moments that made you stop and think about just how far you’ve come? Did your husband experience similar feelings in the beginning of parenthood as you did?

The first few months of being a new mom were really, really hard. I had a very hard time bonding with Olive. I really lacked confidence. But, I think the more I did things for her and found ways of being successful as a parent boosted my confidence. There were a lot of struggles; for instance, she was a car seat/car travel hater between the months of three to seven. She would scream and cry until she vomited in the car, and that really limited my ability to get out of the house and get shit done. It was also a really hot summer when she was born, so I felt like my outside time was very limited. I think by month seven or eight, I felt like I had really bonded with her. The ever changing schedule of a newborn and the inconsistency and lack of a routine for the first few months were difficult (as they are for any new parent). The sleep deprivation was the hardest. SO HARD. I didn’t feel like I had as much support from my family as I would have received if I had given birth. My perspective is that they assumed I didn’t need much help or assistance because I did not need to PHYSICALLY recover. I don’t think they understood the emotional toll that becoming a mother and caring for a newborn took on me, and my mental health was not in the best place. I think by month seven or eight, I was at Target shopping alone, and had a “holy shit!” moment – I was out with my kid, in public, doing fine and feeling confident. I often have anxiety about being out in public alone. I had anxiety that someone will catch me doing something wrong and call me out, or that Olive wwould have an epic meltdown in my favorite store (Target!) and I’d never be able to go back. But, the more and more that I went out, the less anxious and more confident I felt. Now, I feel totally fine about going out alone. I still struggle with anxiety and depression, but I feel much more in control and I know how to challenge my thoughts when that happens and I start to think irrational thoughts.

Shawn, my husband, did not feel the same way. In fact, he really struggled to understand my anxiety about being a new parent. He really, really helped me so much and I attribute my abilities to get my shit together and parent to him. He would take Olive to another room and let me sleep all night. He would take her when she would start to scream and cry and I was overwhelmed. He really listened to me when I would tell him all the anxious and distorted thoughts in my head and tried to make sense of them, even though they didn’t make sense at all. He would help me ground myself back to reality and back to normal, rational thinking. He bonded with Olive instantly, and I still feel like they have a really solid relationship since the get-go.

For anyone reading this who may be having infertility issues, what are some resources (support group, website, book, etc.) you would recommend to help them navigate the process of deciding to go the route of adoption? 

For anyone who is struggling with infertility or has experienced loss, I’m sorry that you are going through that. It has really been one of the hardest issues of my adult life to cope with. There are tons of Facebook support groups, and also in-person support groups for infertility and loss. Some are religious, some are not. I would encourage you to join a few and find one that you feel is a good fit for you. I’ve made some amazing “friends” through groups (I’m looking at you, Lindsay!). It was extremely helpful to me to be able to share my thoughts and have them reflected back to me. To hear that what I was thinking and feeling was normal and ok. I highly would recommend that if you are interested in adoption that you join a support group; that is one thing I didn’t do until after our adoption. Even if you are in the beginning stages or just thinking about it, people are very willing to answer questions and provide feedback or just show you support. Another suggestion is to take a class or training on transracial adoption, if you are pursuing the adoption of a child that is of a different race. Also, don’t be afraid to seek out an outpatient counselor who specializes in infertility and/or adoption – that was a really good choice for me!

If you are interested in joining a non-religious adoption support group, Lindsay PJ and I started one on Facebook that you can join here: Non-religious Adoption Support

What is the extent, if any, of the contact you have had with the birth family since the adoption?

We have an open adoption with Olive’s birth parents. That can mean different things to different families, but for our family we agreed to pictures and letters/emails and the possibility of in-person visits when Olive is older if that is what she chooses to do. Right now, I typically send emails to Olive’s birth parents and her paternal aunt weekly with a little update about what she’s been up to, what new skills she learned, etc. I print pictures and a letter and snail mail them twice a year.

Do you have any friends that have also adopted and is their experience similar to yours?

I do have several friends and family members who have adopted, but everyone’s experience is different! No adoption story is ever the same. Some of them did domestic infant adoption like I did, some did foster care adoption (or are still foster parents hoping to adopt) and some did international adoption. The different types of adoption offer vastly different perspectives and experiences, each unique to their own family.

If you knew someone that was planning to adopt, what one piece of advice would you give them? Is there one thing you wish you knew?

Find a core group of people who best support you and make sure you have that crucial support system set up from the start.

Thank you, Hana!

How to juggle graduate school with a newborn

I know a lot of mothers consider the pros and cons of going back to school while raising children, and whether or not they can be successful in doing so, so I wanted to share my story of completing graduate school with a new son while it is fresh in my mind. But first, let’s start at the beginning…

I didn’t do the college thing after graduating high school in 2003 – in fact I had this naive attitude that I didn’t need school and I’d be better off without it. However, once I decided to move on from working at a Whole Foods Market in 2006 (who was a great employer, BTW), I had a tough time finding a job with the salary I felt I was worth. For the positions and salaries I was interested in, I didn’t meet one basic requirement: a Bachelor’s degree. I was living in San Francisco when I decided to give college a chance and started taking a class or two at the City College of San Francisco (CCSF). At this time, all of my roommates were either in school or recently graduated, so they (unknowingly) provided me with the inspiration to attend. One even took a psychology class with me at CCSF (if you see this Phil – thanks!)! I had an interest in early childcare and special education, so most of my first classes were on these subjects. For a couple of years, I was very casual about college, taking only a class here or there and only in subjects that I had interest in.

When I made the moved to Maryland in 2008 to live with my boyfriend (now husband), I was inspired by him to do better and to get more serious with regards to school. He was almost finished with his Bachelor’s degree and it suddenly seemed more important to start working towards an actual degree. I enrolled at Frederick Community College (FCC), in their General Studies program and was able to transfer all of my classes from CCSF as electives which was good, but also meant to get my Associate’s I would need to take all of the required courses which I may not have interest in. My math skills were rusty and I had to take additional math classes to get up to speed which was very discouraging. I chipped away at it, taking two classes each spring and fall semester and in December of 2011 I received my Associate of Arts in General Studies. I had also been accepted into the University of Maryland University College’s (UMUC) English program. It felt like I was FINALLY moving along with this school thing!

I still didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I knew I loved reading, so studying English literature seemed like a safe bet for someone obsessed with Jane Austen and reading as much as I am. This program was completely online, and I enjoyed the classes I during the first semester. Prior to the start of my second semester, I decided to start going to school full-time, on top of working full-time. This was relatively easy to do as I enjoyed the subject matter, but I often procrastinated with writing papers and always felt rushed on Sunday nights when most of my assignments were due. Sunday night deadlines seem typical of online classes in my experience, but having a weekend to finish things up is helpful. During this time, my husband and I got married in 2012 and started discussing our plan to have kids, which was loosely schedule around the completion of my Bachelor’s degree, which was as far as I was planning to take my college experience. In May of 2014, I graduated with my Bachelor of Arts in English from UMUC summa cum laude – with honors! During my time at UMUC, I realized exactly what I wanted to do as a career, and it made perfect sense! I wanted to be a librarian and help people fall in love with reading while providing essential services to the community. I applied for and was accepted into Clarion University of Pennsylvania’s Master of Science in Information and Library Science (online) program.


This is where things start getting tricky…

As with UMUC, I wanted to test the waters with two classes at Clarion before attempting to go full-time in addition to working full-time. But, I learned after the first semester that two classes were my limit as the workload and subject matter took a lot more time for me to understand and complete. This meant that I would complete the program in three years instead of two, and committing to that amount of time seemed daunting. In spring of 2015 my husband and I tried and successfully became pregnant pretty much immediately, and two months into the semester I found myself battling near constant morning sickness. In fact, the week I found out I was pregnant I went on a school trip to DC where I had zero appetite and nausea spells, all while walking all around the city, going on tours, and getting to know classmates I had never met before! The rest of that semester I struggled with handing work in on time and concentrating. Working on school work at the end of a workday while I was nauseous was the last thing I wanted to do. When I feel sick, the only thing that seems to help is crawling into bed, falling asleep, and dreaming about non-stomachache things. Outside of work and school there was suddenly so much to do and plan for in my personal life – a baby on the way! I planned to read every parenting book under the sun (HA!). Luckily, throughout the semester I was able to pace myself and even request a few extended deadlines. When requesting an extended deadline, I always gave a reason why, told them exactly when I would have it turned in by, and acknowledged that I understand I would lose some points on the assignment – which seemed to work; I tried really hard not to do this often. My professors were always very understanding and one, who is also a mother, often would check in with me to see how everything was going, even after birth!


While I was still trying to figure out a plan of attack for the fall semester, as I would be having my son in November when classes would still be underway, my university made some changes and for the first time ever were offering seven-week condensed classes as an option! YES! Typical semester classes are 15 weeks long, so this meant I could take two condensed classes and be done in October and have all of November and December to concentrate on giving birth, recovering postpartum, enjoying the holidays, and getting to know my son. The only downside was that I’d be cramming TWO full courses in half the time – EEP! Luckily, morning sickness had passed and I had a relatively easy pregnancy. I was able to complete all my assignments and get most of my required reading completed, though, I couldn’t really enjoy myself on weekends as there was too much to do. I was open with my instructors about the pregnancy, on the off-chance my son came early or there were complications, but neither of those things were an issue. I finished my condensed semester in a blur and then my days leading up to my delivery crept by. You can read about my delivery here: Sarah’s birth story. It was SO nice to enjoy almost two months of no school AND no work after my son was born.

Mid-January I was due back to class and shortly after work as well. This was the semester where things got tricky! On work days, I would wake up at 5:30am after a night of a routine mid-night bottle feed and the occasional wakeful baby. My husband and I would get ready ourselves ready for work and get our son ready for daycare, which meant making bottles of formula as I wasn’t breastfeeding. We would drop him off at daycare and then carpool the hour drive to work. We would work 8 hours and then we’d go pick up our son from his grandparent’s house (his Grammie was spending a couple of hours with him each afternoon), and we’d all get home around 6pm. We would eat dinner, cuddle and hang out with our son, and put him to bed between 8:30pm and 9pm. At this time, I would try to get a little school work in if I felt up to it before bed, but I pretty much never felt up for it after a long workday. It was during this time that I felt a LOT of guilt that I was spending such little time with my son during the work week – only a few hours each day. The guilt that hits you as a mother is no joke, and I’m constantly trying to tell myself that I’m justified in what I’m doing that causes it. So maybe my son only gets a few hours with his parents each night, at least he’s at a trusted daycare, with grandparents who adore him, and he’ll have a highly educated mom in the near future, who will hopefully be able to provide him lots of opportunities in the future. Surely that’s a good tradeoff…right? During this period I felt like I had no “me time,” and the few times I decided to take “me time” I felt SO incredibly guilty. I felt guilty I should have been spending that time with my son, or my husband, or the dog, or cleaning the house, or doing homework. There was a lot of weight on my shoulders all the time, but I took each week as it came and counted down the 15 week semester. I don’t think my husband ever fully understood how much this weighed on me, as I don’t think he has ever felt this degree of guilt while away from home. I’m not sure why that is, maybe because society still places more responsibility of raising children on mothers than fathers? Anyway, my husband was very supportive and often took our son to his parents’ house on most Sundays so I could buckle down and get work completed and turned in. He offered help in many other ways, but again, I felt guilty asking too much of him. A few friends even offered occasionally, but again – the guilt. The semester passed surprisingly fast, which was a blessing because it was ROUGH. But I did it, and I knew it could be done, and I knew it wouldn’t be forever.

Summer break was fabulous and I felt like I could breathe again.

My 2016 fall semester was a little trickier, but I was also a little more relaxed and rested. By this time, our son was sleeping through the night and my husband and I felt like we got the hang of this baby thing (as much as anyone can). We also started putting our son to sleep a little earlier, so that was helpful for evenings I needed to get any kind of work in. But, he was also crawling at this point, and then walking, and eating solids, and still on formula, so all these things meant a little more physical work on our end as far as meeting his needs goes. I told myself that this semester I wouldn’t wait until last-minute to complete assignments, and that I would be happy earning a B and not working as hard to maintain a 4.0 if it meant more family time…but neither of those went as planned. I found I am incapable of turning in an assignment I am not 100% happy with, and that I work best under the pressure of having hours remaining to complete something! Procrastination is my best motivation! Much like last semester, my husband stepped up and allowed me quiet time to get work done and also offered “me time.” In case you’re wondering if the guilt got any better – nope, it didn’t, in fact, I think it was even worse because now I had the potential of missing milestones.

Spring 2017 was my final semester, and also the one where I had to figure out how I was going to manage parenting a toddler, maintaining a happy marriage, working full-time, commuting two hours each day, taking one graduate course, and logging 135 internship hours (wtf, right?). I planned ahead starting in December by arranging an internship with my place of work. My internship would be creating a website for the library I worked in, not something I was especially excited about, but something that would allow me to intern from home during hours that suited my schedule best. It averaged out to roughly nine hours a week, so I could knock a few out on select weeknight evenings, and the bulk of the week’s hours on a weekend day. Again, my husband was SO helpful, and even his parents helped out with the occasional weekend childcare while I logged my hours. I had a big reflection paper due at the end of my internship that I started working on early and each week added another page (why didn’t I start on large assignments early every other semester?!). The day my paper was due, I was about to read through it for the 100th time, but for the first time ever, I said “fuck it” and turned it in “early.” I was lucky that my final graduate course was on the easier end and wasn’t too time-consuming so I could really focus more of my time on my internship. Somehow, by counting down the weeks again, I made it! I’m the first person in my family to earn a Master’s degree, and all while maintaining a 4.0! And as silly as I feel sharing this, I’m going to: the only reason that I wanted to attend the commencement ceremony was so I could take pictures with my son afterwards and have the memory of him coming to my graduation with me!


Now that I am finally done with school (at least for the near future!), I need to find a way to shake that feeling of dread I get on Sunday mornings, when I knew I have hours’ worth of homework would need to be completed before I going to sleep. I need to remember that I no longer need to squeeze in family time, which I knew would heighten my homework anxiety and created a more serious time crunch for me in the evening. And, I also need to own up to my own forgetfulness now for not getting things done around the house or forgetting to call someone – “sorry, I’m swamped with school” is no longer a valid response! I can also ease back into doing things I enjoy, like reading fiction, or things I have put off, like knitting a blanket, because I felt guilty adopting a new hobby with so little time. I can’t begin to explain how excited I am for this summer – spending the evenings outside in the yard with my son chasing the dog and chickens, or making spontaneous stops on car drives on weekends to try a new ice cream spot. I am so incredibly happy to have time again – it is so precious.

If I could do it over again, I wouldn’t change a thing. I had a blast as a young adult and valued my freedom. I got to live where I wanted, travel where I wanted, and other than work, didn’t feel constrained by deadlines. As a mature adult (HA!), I feel I took college more seriously than I believe I would have right out of high school. I felt more comfortable making big decisions, like choosing a school or choosing a major, and a poor grade wouldn’t upset my parents (because they wouldn’t know!). College was and still is expensive, and I will be repaying loans for years to come, but paying for it myself made it that much more important to succeed. And as far as having a baby smack in the middle of graduate school – it was the best decision ever. My husband and I were both “ready” and our son has brought more joy to our lives than ANYTHING else could have. We KNEW it was the right time, and meeting our son on the day of his birth reaffirmed that. As guilty as I felt not spending time with my son so I could do school work, I don’t think he suffered one bit. He spent that time with people who loved and cared for him, and when we did spend time together, we made the most of it! He knows who is mama is!

So, my advice to anyone with children that may be considering going back to school is this: if it’s something you want to do, just do it!

Before starting, look into your different school options: is there somewhere nearby you can attend, or a program online? Make sure you consider how long the drive to and from school is beforehand, because that drive could be precious time. Evaluate your schedule: how much time do you have after your child goes to sleep and before you do? Do you have a lunch break at work you can take advantage of? Can you get an audio version of your text books to listen to in the car? Are there options for condensed semesters? Start with baby steps: after the first semester, consider your course load and adjust how many classes you will take next semester. Find support: do you have a partner at home who will support you and willing to take on extra duties? Discuss this with them and make sure you’re both on the same page. Do you have family nearby willing to help? Do you have someone you can call to babysit last-minute in case something falls through? Be ready for guilt: you’re going to be stretched for time and you’ll have to make sacrifices, but this will hurt you more than anyone else. I’d like to say to just ignore the guilt, but for me that was impossible. So, expect guilt, and learn to live with it. Remind yourself of all the ways you and your family will benefit from your education, and repeat them anytime you feel that guilt coming on. And lastly, take care of yourself: make sure you find time each day to have a special connection with your child. Make sure you get a little “me time” at least once a week – whether it’s reading a book, exercising, grabbing coffee with a friend – anything. And remember, it won’t last forever! It will be TOUGH, but it can totally be done!

The things she carries

Leaving the house as a first time mama was intimidating!  Not only was I not used to having another human completely depending on me – but I had to figure out how to get around while having everything I could possibly need to take care of my little one.  This meant having a car seat in my car, a stroller or carrier to hold my little one once I got to my destination, and then having everything on hand in case anything from a blow out to a fever happened!  There is an art to packing diaper bags – you want to be prepared for anything, but you also can’t carry the entire nursery room with you.  So, a few Punk Mamas have shared what is in their diaper bags to help any new mamas out there get a better sense of what to plan on toting around!


(Pictured above) “Wipes (we use the same wipes for everything), burp cloth, sunglasses, hand sanitizer, lip balm, dirty diaper bags, size two diapers, size four diapers, two cups with water, change of clothes for baby, changing pad, wallet.  Usually I have some snacks in there, too.”  – Erika B., mama to three: 5yo, 2yo, and 2mos.


(Pictured above) “A friend made this for me years ago, and it became my main diaper bag.  I use a backpack too, but this bag is special to me.  It doesn’t leak when I forget to close something tight enough, it’s roomy, matches my wardrobe, and there’s no way to mix it with someone else’s.  Extra outfits for both kids, boogie wipes, butt wipes, burp towel, size four and size one diapers, scented plastic bags, and cream.”  – Amelia P. M., mama to two.

(Pictured above) “Diaper holder with mat, three diapers and Honest Co. wipes, extra clothes, sticky place mats (we use them at restaurant and stick them right on the table for him so he can eat food right off the surface and to clean up you just peel it right off!), Augie and Lola pouches with snacks, Tylenol, one book, one toy, face wipes, boogie wipes, sanitizer, sunblock, panty liner, tampon, and chapstick!  Before leaving the house I may throw in a hoodie depending on the temperature and also a sippy cup with water.”  – Sarah C., mama to a one: 15mos.

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(Pictured left) “We have changing pad, wipes, diapers, extra clothes with light jacket in case it’s chilly, light blanket, small umbrella because weather in SoFla is crazy! Boogies wipes, cleaning wipes, hand sanitizer, small trash bags for diapers if were not by a trash can, portable charger for our cell phones, toys, lotion, sunscreen, teether, burp cloths/bibs, snacks and a spoon, and a bag with small first aid kit and Tylenol/thermometer.” – Laura T., mama to one: 8mos.

“My bag’s pretty minimal!  We use a backpack.  We don’t go out much yet; we pack diapers, wipes, changing pad, change of clothes, two flannel blankets, pacifier, spare nipple shield, burp cloth – I think that’s it!”  “UPDATE!  Mine grew since last post: diapers, wipes, Sani-wipes, hand sanitizer, changing pad, plastic bag for dirty whatever, soft blanket, burp cloth, winter hat, spring hat, car seat toy add ons, paci, nipple shield, Muslin swaddle for cover up if needed, 2 changes of clothes (one outfit and one sleeper).” – Ashley P., mama to one: 2mos.

“Never used one!  Sometimes I had extra pants in the car and wipes just in case, but never carried any kind of baby supplies in a bag or anything like that.  I’m a weirdo and we didn’t do diapers. [Elimination communication]” – Brooke A., mama to two.

(Pictured above) “I don’t even have a diaper bag!  I carry a medium sized Vera Bradley quilted tote.  I really should get a properdiaper bag and wet bag set.  I parcel all of her solid food out into small glass mason jars.  It’s easy to pack, easy to hold and easy to clean.” – Sarah H., mama to one: 9mos.

“I don’t really carry one!  Just throw diapers, water, a change of clothes and a credit card into a bag!  Good to go!”  – Esther M., mama to two.

17342983_567082996123_2620762598037064153_n(Pictured right) “Diapers, wipes, extra clothes (the one time I forgot to bring extra ones she shit all over everything 🙃) toys, nail clippers because you never know when you’ll need them, bottle if we’re out for a long period of time, then I have stuff for me! Tea tree cream because I wash my hands so much they get so dry, snacks, phone charger!  It’s usually a lot more organized.” – Cailah M., mama to one.

“Cloth diapers, a dirty diaper bag, a teether, wipes, hand sanitizer, a spit up rag, and 2 extra outfits.” – Melissa K., mama to one.

“So happy my girl is five and we now leave the house with a thermos and my wallet.”  – Elisabeth N. W., mama to one; 5yo.

Dear Diary: My 1st Trimester

Punk Mama Ashley M. has just passed into her second trimester and has shared her first trimester diary with us!  We look forward to future installments from her as her pregnancy progresses and she meets her little one!

December 15th, 2016 – Approximate conception.

January 8th, 2017 – Here’s the thing, if you’re going to pee on a pregnancy test, you’ve really got to commit the next 5 minutes of your life to that stick.  I don’t think that most people would have this problem but to no surprise – I peed on the stick and then just forgot about it and got into the bath.  My husband came in to ask me about how it had gone and before he had finished his question, he saw the stick.  Just like that, positive, and he knew before me.

January 9th, 2017 – No matter how you’re feeling it’s best you call and schedule an appointment right away.  I am horrible at facing anything head on and this was no exception.  After about three hours I gathered up enough courage and called to schedule the appointment.  I cried a bunch because I was so nervous but also because this was probably the most important phone call I have made in my 28 years of life – at least that’s how it felt.  It’s better to bite the bullet than to have it just lingering around weighing heavy on your shoulders.  But, I couldn’t get to the doctors for two and a half weeks!  What the heck?!  How on earth was I supposed to survive the next two weeks?  I’ll tell you how, with about 30 pregnancy tests and a gallon of ice cream.  There isn’t much you can do, so even if it seems hard just try to push it to the back of your mind and distract yourself.  Take your vitamins, eat well, and rest rest rest.  All I want to do these days is sleep – I’m serious.  I have dreams about sleeping.  So, just take a deep breath and roll with it.

Today I decided which prenatal vitamins to buy, with the help of my friend, Google.  Oh, ye olde faithful Google – a double edged sword.  Take this, don’t eat that, you might be dying, that’s not normal, “statistics”.  It was there in the Target vitamin aisle that I had my first pregnancy break down.  I think this is normal and expected, and to be honest it helped relieve some of the pressure that I could feel building up.  I came to, gathered my vitamins, wiped my tears and continued in to the depths of my Target black hole.

January 27th, 2017: 6 weeks & 1 day – I was so emotional while scheduling my first appointment that I am lucky I was even able to take down the date let alone what was going to happen.  I showed up prepared to pee in yet another cup but that’s about it.  That was the easy part!  They asked questions about how I had been feeling, my family history, my medical history – just general stuff.  Morning sickness?  Nope!  None!  I’ve just felt tired but other than that, great!  (Boy, I am seriously regretting how amped up I was about that – I was pretty much asking for it.)  However, I was not prepared whatsoever about what happened next.  The nurse explained to me that I just needed to get an ultrasound done to make sure everything was where it was supposed to be and then I could be on my way.  Sure!  Easy peasy, lemon squeezy.  I walked into the room and the tech informed me that it was going to an internal exam.  WOOF.  When I say that I was not prepared, I mean it.  Ultrasound?  Isn’t that supposed to be OUTSIDE of the body?  I hadn’t taken a shower in at least a day and the last time I had done any grooming I got bored half way through and quit.  I was in no shape for a stranger to be poking around in my nether regions.  Here’s the deal, the instrument looks horrifying and you may not be groomed to your liking, but once you get past this and you see the heartbeat – it. is. WORTH IT.  My husband and I high fived and right there, in that moment (maybe only for that moment), I didn’t have any other cares in the world.

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 January 28th, 2017: 6 weeks & 2 days – …and then “morning” sickness hit except it wasn’t morning and I was asleep.  I shot out of bed at about 12:30 am and darted to the bathroom, barely making it.  Up came dinner, actually it seemed that everything I had ever eaten was coming up.  I felt better after about 45 minutes and I went back to sleep.  Since then, morning sickness rears its ugly head a few hours before bedtime, so when I start to feel it begin, I stop everything and just lay still in bed with no screens, not much sound, and just pet snuggles.  This seems to be helping but who knows what will happen tomorrow?

January 29th, 2017: …and everyday since… – Morning sickness is a strange beast – kind of like that John Green quote from The Fault in Our Stars?  “I fell in love (got sick) the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once.”  I mean it was just slow building and then quick explosion – didn’t matter where I was.  In the shower, at Target, driving my car.  E. V. E. R. Y. W. H. E. R. E.  Morning sickness does not discriminate.  I suffer from chronic rhinitis which is hell, but apparently there is also pregnancy rhinitis that just amplifies chronic rhinitis so I spend a lot of time thinking about how I may just drown in my own mucus.  Great, just how I always wanted to go; put it on my tombstone: “Ashley Brown, death by snot.”  Oh, and I had a pretty serious reaction to lemonade – my throat got itchy, I swelled up, it was hell.  And everything these days tastes like metal – doesn’t matter what I eat or when I eat it, it just feels like I am just sucking on metal flavored cough drops constantly.

February 16th, 2017: 9 weeks – Second baby appointment!  I showered this time and did some grooming – didn’t shave my legs though so it wasn’t very well thought out.  This appointment lasted TWO HOURS AND THIRTY ONE MINUTES!  WHAT THE HECK?!  And I was alone because I thought it was going to be a quick in and out.  If I had a dollar for every time that I was wrong or regretted something during an appointment, I would have approximately ten dollars at this point.  I peed in a cup, they checked my sugars, we went through a detailed family history, the doctor filled me in on all of the great tests that I would have to have done and THEN she informed me that she needed to perform a PAP.  UGH THE WORST.  It passed quickly as she tried to talk to me about my job.  But I just cried.  Being a woman is great 98.1% of the time – I am going to say that 1.99% of the time that being a woman sucks (see previous sentences about being at the doctor’s office and getting an unexpected PAP while pregnant).  I reminded myself that this is her job, it’s normal to her, and there’s not much that she hasn’t seen – I am sure.

February 24th, 2017: 10 weeks & 1 day – “My first pregnancy meltdown, what a FUN TIME!” …said pretty much no one.  Steve took too long to help me out with something (he actually took about three seconds so I don’t know what happened here) and I took this as a sign that he hated me and didn’t want to have a baby.  I cried, I told him he was the WORST PERSON THAT I HAVE EVER MET and then I just got in the car and left him in Hanover, PA (about a half an hour away from home).  When I say that I cried, that’s putting it lightly – I cried, I screamed, I turned my phone off, and then got mad when I turned it back on two minutes later and there wasn’t a single missed message (HOW DARE HE!).  After about twenty minutes and a phone call that let me know he had a ride home, I calmed down.  I met him and his ride halfway to pick him up to head home.  And he had snacks for me.  Pregnancy hormones are no joke.  Disclaimer: My husband is a saint.

March 8th, 2017: 11 weeks & 6 days – One final first trimester to-do left!  Bloodwork – holy cow!  This lady took NINE TUBES OF BLOOD.  N. I. N. E.  You can’t drink during pregnancy but I’ll tell you what – getting nine tubes of blood drawn feels like drinking an entire box of wine.  Woof.  Glad that’s over with.  (Yes, I know that there will be more in the future, but shhh… we don’t need to think about that right now.)

The first trimester has come and gone; three months down and six to go.  Overall, it was by no means a walk in the park, but it wasn’t awful either.  If the remainder of my pregnancy goes this way, I won’t be mad, I’ll just continue to be shocked and surprised by my body and my doctor appointments.  I still don’t really feel pregnant, just oddly ill.  I look forward to the developing connection with my body, my baby, and the world outside.

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Shawna’s birth story

Punk Mama Shawna S. has shared her birth story with us.  While she had a traumatic birth, she went on to have a successful breastfeeding journey with her son.  We hope that by sharing her story, a mother out there reading this will be better equipped to navigate maternity healthcare options, find support for their traumatic birth, and/or  feel less alone in motherhood.

Sharing this kind of makes me want to puke.  You are going to read information that will probably make you say, “WHOA, TMI.”  But here’s a “motherhood dare” for you: be raw, be fucking real.  If you feel cheated, say so.  Don’t let the bastards get you down just because your truth hurts their ears or because people don’t get what the big deal is.  To start, during my pregnancy, I felt like a powerful goddess.  As a parent, I feel that way too.  My birth experience was not as empowering.

Punk mama Shawna pregnant with Zephyr in a blue gown in the snow

Whimsy Wishes Photography

 

“Tomorrow is Earth Day, so I kind of hope the baby arrives tomorrow.”  The midwife smiled.  “You are 1cm dilated.  Want me to sweep your membranes?”  I felt a pinch and said so – she just said things are “sensitive.”  I confidently answered that, no, I didn’t want my membranes swept, that I wanted labor to start on its own.  The midwife smiled again and said, “Okay, well let’s see how this goes.”

I am having a dream about my dead friend and he just keeps repeating, “I just want you to know that everything is going to be okay.”  I keep questioning him, he avoids answering.  I wake up.

It’s 3:30am and I think I may have actually just wet my pants.  I walk over to the bathroom and I realize that the wetness is not urine.  I call for Ryan who springs out of bed wondering exactly what we need to do next.  Oh god, the bags are already packed, but is the dog ready?  Is she going to be okay while I’m gone?  She needs to go to the bathroom.  Let’s try to get her to go twice before we leave.

I have slept maybe three hours.  I make the call to the midwife and tell her the situation; I’m pretty sure my water broke.  She was sleeping, I can tell.  She says that I’m probably wrong, to wait for two hours and see if I soak through enough pads and then call her back.  So I soak through one pad in 15 minutes and tell her that I know what is going on.  She says she wants me to come into the hospital because my water broke and now I’m more prone to infection.  I trust her, so I reluctantly accept coming into the hospital, even though hospitals scare me and I had planned to labor at home for a while.  I kiss my dog about a thousand times and promise her someone will be back for her.

As we walk out to the car, there are coyotes howling and owls hooting.  It is the most beautiful, fierce calling I have ever heard.  I text everyone to tell them what was going on.  We are driving through a dense fog; the contractions are getting stronger.  Is it going to be an Earth Day Birthday?  We arrive and I start furiously sneaking granola bars because they keep telling me I’m not allowed to eat solids, although I was told I could eat during labor.  I am tired and hungry.  I’m starting to get really agitated because the nurse who I despise is here and she won’t stop talking to me, and I just want her to shut the fuck up.  My mom is here and so is my best friend.  We are all sitting and talking – making jokes.  They are buffering that nurse and her stupid questions and I appreciate it more than I can express.  I walk around for a bit, but it is overwhelming for me to walk through the hospital corridors.  This place is so cold.

The midwife convinces me to go through with getting the IV, even though I didn’t want one.  I can’t really process anything right now.  The annoying nurse tries four times to get an IV in my wrist and finally the midwife just does it because she can tell I’m about to lose my cool.  My midwife finally gets another nurse to take the place of the one who is pissing me off.  Her name is Helen and she talks very softly and she looks like my friend Zayne’s mom; I like her instantly.  I sit on the ball for a little while.  People are piling in the waiting room to support me and everyone tells me so.  I hang out in the shower for a while, but the nurses and midwife want me to get back on the bed and be monitored.  This was not how it was supposed to be.  I want to stay in the shower because the water relaxes me and I feel better in there.  Every time they monitor the baby, nothing is wrong.  “Why can’t I stay in the shower?”  No answer.  My sister is in the room intermittently; I like having her there.  She makes me feel stronger.

Every time the midwife checks me, she tells me she isn’t “impressed,” that things are not progressing.  I start to feel nervous.  We have talked about all of my fears regarding hospitals and unnecessary medical interventions – she told me that she would never intervene in the birth process unless totally necessary.  She had told me that I would not need a doula because she would be with me the entire time.  I trust her.  I trust her, right?

“Still not impressed.”  She comes back and tells me that she thinks I should take Stadol so that I can relax.  I start to cry.  I don’t want medication.  She asks me why I’m crying and what I think I know about Stadol that would make me not want to take it.  I can’t remember, but I know I don’t want it.  She looks me straight in the face and says, “If you don’t take this Stadol to relax, I’m afraid you’re going to end up with a C-section.” I trust her.  She knows my fears and promised me safety, so why would she pressure me?  I ask what is going to happen with this medication, and they tell me it will help me sleep.  I trust them.  They give me the Stadol and my vision starts to change.  My eyes feel like they are darting back and forth.  I am managing contractions from outerspace.  I cannot relax.  I am trapped in my own brain.  Ryan is sitting beside me.  I tell him I have to close my eyes because something isn’t right.

They have started Pitocin because the baby hasn’t progressed enough for their liking and they want to get things moving.  The contractions are getting harsh and I am still not progressing to where they want me to be.  I keep hearing “C-section,” “C-section” instead of what they are really saying.  I tell them that if they want me to relax, I think I am going to need an epidural because the Pitocin contractions are the worst thing I have ever felt.  I am crying hysterically because I don’t want this medication, but I also don’t want to end up with a C-section and I’m scared.  At this point, I’m having tremors and no one tells me it is normal.  No one.  I am scared to death.  “What are these tremors?”  Why is everyone ignoring me when I ask that?

I did all of this research about the birth process and I am scared because no one knows what I want and I feel like I don’t know how to ask for it anymore.  Everyone is looking at me to make a decision.  The anesthesiologist comes in and he is the kindest person I have ever met in a hospital setting.  He explains the whole process to me, treats Ryan with respect, and says he will be back to check on me.  After the epidural, Ryan goes to get food and my best friend, Anderson, sits with me while I sleep.  I wake up and they check me again.  I have progressed much more.  10cm dilated!  This time the midwife is impressed.  Maybe the epidural was appropriate for this situation.  I feel a little more positive with them not bothering me about my lack of progression.  They increase the Pitocin even though I tell them that I am starting to be able to feel again.  Anesthetic never works long for me.  I have told her this before.

I think it is evening at this point, I have not been counting the hours and my room has no windows.  I don’t know if the sun is shining or the sky is dark.  Pitocin contractions are the worst thing in the world.  I feel like my hips crack open every time the contractions surge in.  I have a fever at this point and after drawing my blood for what seems like the 50th time, they tell me I have an infection.  I beg them to let me dose myself with another epidural because something feels stuck and that I am having a lot of pain just in one area.  The midwife looks at me in a concerned way but doesn’t say whether or not I can.  She just kind of ignores the question.  I don’t want to do it if it is going to cause me problems, so I stop asking because no one is actually giving me an answer.

I am writhing.  I keep feeling like I need to push, but although I am 10cm dilated, the baby has not moved down.  The next time I ask to dose myself again, she tells me I can and it anesthetizes everything but the one area that feels like my hip bone is breaking.  I am pushing and nothing is happening.  The midwife has her hands inside of me, pushing her full weight down on my vagina to try to “help it along” and it feels like she is tearing me in half.  The baby still hasn’t moved down, so I’m not sure why her doing this is helping me.  It hurts so much.  This is not the birth experience I wanted.  I know that, in this moment when she keeps telling me not to make noise through my contractions.  I feel silenced.  The baby is stuck, I think.

Finally, exasperated and exhausted with hardly any sleep and no nourishment, I give up.  I cry and apologize to everyone that will listen, that this is not what I want, but I think I am going to have to have a C-section.  Everyone looks at me like I am giving up, that I can keep doing this, but my mom gets down right to my face and looks me in the eye.  She explains again what this would mean and I do my best to sound as rational as possible in making this decision so that people will know that I mean what I am saying.  My mom advocates for me by turning to them to confirm that I am done.  The mood in the room gets quiet.  I feel so sad, but I am ready to meet my baby.

The surgeon who is to do my c-section has a cold expression and explains things to me between contractions.  I sign whatever waiver and they take me to surgery.  The nursing team is kind, although they all seem to be annoyed with one another.  The anesthesiologist is back and he’s talking me through everything.  The surgeon starts cutting before she asks if I can feel the area she’s about to slice.  The anesthesiologist quickly asks me if I have any feeling.  His eyes look concerned.  I tell him that I don’t.  They realize they left Ryan out of the room after the anesthesiologist asks the surgeon and staff why he isn’t there.  Ryan walks in to see them already cutting into me and makes his way over to me.  As he is sitting next to me, he sees blood splashing off of the table onto the floor.  I have oxygen tubes in my nose and I’m focusing on that and the kind eyes of the anesthesiologist.  “What will his name be?”  “Zephyr.”  Zephyr Ronan.

The cry that shoots through that room as Zephyr comes earth side is a sound I know will ring in my ears forever.  His strawberry blonde hair, his poor bruised head from being stuck against my pelvis, his puffy little baby body.  The most beautiful thing I have ever seen in my life is right here, lying across my chest and I grew him inside of me.  They take him for evaluation and I love the pediatrician who is there to evaluate him.  He asks me if I want him circumcised, I say no, and he says, “Good, it’s just cosmetic anyway.”

They take me for evaluation because I have some extra blood loss, but fortunately, it is nothing to be alarmed about.  The midwife jokes with me, “You redheads just bleed extra.”  Hilarious.  Thanks for the joke.  I want to see my baby.  I keep smiling as the nurse is wheeling me down the hall, “I want to try breastfeeding him right away so we can establish a good relationship.”  The nurse just nods her head, “Well, we’ll see after the doctor finishes looking him over.”  I am puzzled by the statement, but I am so excited to see him.

They bring him in, swaddled in a blanket and I can’t stop staring at him.  The pediatrician comes down and looks very sorry.  Because of some of the things Zephyr is doing with his face, they are concerned about him having a stroke while he was stuck against my pelvis while I was pushing for so many hours.  My heart is sinking.  My baby may have had a stroke?  What will that mean?  A million questions are on my mind and I can’t find the words to ask any of them.  “When you take him up to York Hospital, can he be brought back to Gettysburg?”  The doctor hangs his head a little and says, “No, unfortunately he would have to stay up at the NICU.”  I start crying again.  Zephyr should be evaluated if they think this happened but I don’t want him to go alone.  I reluctantly agree, but I tell Ryan he has to go to York with our baby.  He is nodding the entire time.  He calls his brother to take him to York because the staff informs us that Ryan cannot ride with the baby, that it is a liability.  I beg to be taken to York Hospital with my baby and they decline, over and over again.  I am trying to hold onto this precious baby before they take him away from me.  He opens his eyes just a bit to look at me and then falls asleep.

I don’t get a chance to nurse my baby for the first time because the NICU transport team storms in.  The lady who is the one in charge, or so it seems, is pushy and rude.  She hands me this tote bag with a onesie in it that nearly sends me into a rage when I read it.  It is a plain white onesie with the words, “My First Ride” and a helicopter on it.  I instantly want to punch her teeth out of her head.  What kind of fucking stupid onesie is this to give a new mother with a baby heading to the NICU?  She tells me they are going to give the baby formula.  I tell them I would prefer to pump colostrum, that the baby’s blood sugar was fine, that his belly doesn’t even hold that much liquid yet.  She then looks at me strangely and says, “If his sugar drops, we will have to hook him up to an IV with sugar water, you don’t want us to have to hurt him more, do you?”  Of course not.  But what kind of mindfuck is that?  HURT HIM MORE?!?!  I tell them I am going to pump and send milk to the NICU.  She blows off everything I am saying.

She takes my baby and holds him out to me like she is holding a pretend doll and says, “Kiss your baby, it’s time to go.”  They put him in a clear, plastic box and I just stare.  When he is finally out of the room, I begin sobbing about wanting to be with my baby.  Ryan holds me and tells me how much he loves me, about how awesome I did, and all I can think is how badly I failed.  That I should have pushed harder to be taken with him.

My friend Anna is there and she talks me through everything.  We talk about the entire situation, and she makes me feel better.  I refuse to sleep.  I get the phone call that my child did not have a stroke and that he seems perfectly fine, but he is a lazy eater, so they want to keep him until he will eat at least 1oz in a sitting.  I become furious, he does not need to consume that much in a sitting.  I tell Ryan to advocate for our son and he does the best he can.

I ask the nurses at Gettysburg for help because I need to start pumping.  The nurse comes in and tosses the items on the bed and says, “It isn’t difficult to figure out.”  She mentions a breastfeeding app.  I want to mention that she’s an idiot.  But I figure it out because I am determined that they will not take this away from me.  And I pump.  Ryan takes the milk to the baby.  I am determined to get out tomorrow because now I am watching my infant child lay in a box via laptop.  I am crying and hardly eating this shitty hospital meal.  We have been separated by a hospital that goes out of its way to promote kangaroo care and I think about how horrible it is that they would separate a mother and child if the child is not ill.  I am obsessed with this laptop.  My baby is so beautiful and perfect.

I walk and walk and walk so that I can show them I am better.  They are shocked because I just had major abdominal surgery and I am walking like I have no pain at all.  I do not want to be here.  When I am finally discharged less than 24 hours after my C-section, I have to have a leg bag because I still cannot urinate on my own.  The surgeon who is discharging me doesn’t seem concerned about risks and she signs off on my paperwork without mentioning much of anything.  My husband drives me to York where my mom and stepdad meet us.  They wheel me into the NICU and in that plastic container is my sweet baby.  I can’t stop crying when I see him.  He’s swaddled in the blanket and I can’t believe that we are here.

I feel like I abandoned him to this place and now he is a prisoner until they say he can go home.  My stepdad tries to take a family picture and I’m crying so I say no.  There really isn’t a happy “coming home” picture of us.  I never knew it was possible to love someone so much.  We go home at midnight and come back at 6am.  I am there all day and he is finally nursing.  I don’t have any support with it because the nurses are busy – I’m just doing it.  I’m determined.  I’m still pumping so that they will stop feeding him formula during the times that I am away.  This child is so beautiful.  The rest of the time is a blur because all I am focused on is establishing our breastfeeding relationship.

The doctor who evaluates him on the day he gets to go home is matter-of-fact and personable.  I like him immediately.  He tells us we get to go home and I want to hug him. My baby is fine, there was never anything wrong with him, just some bruising and swelling.  We go home and jump into a routine of naps, snuggles, and nursing.  I am so, so in love.

Side note, it turns out that the reason I felt like I couldn’t urinate while I was at the hospital was because I had a UTI from them catheterizing me so many times during labor.  Awesome, thanks for all of the fond memories.

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It makes me sad to say that we were failed by the medical system, as so many women are.  Especially when my particular experience involves a medical group that I am employed by.  To say that I am thankful for my child’s health and my own healthy outcome is an understatement, but that shouldn’t even need to be mentioned.  I am writing about my birth experience because it was real and it happened.  It happens regularly where providers neglect to treat the patient like they are worthy of an explanation, like the process isn’t just as important as the outcome, or like the clock always has a significant place in the birthing experience. Additionally, the lack of education in terms of establishing a breastfeeding relationship is astounding and we owe more to our mothers who want to have successful breastfeeding relationships with their children.

As a result of this failure, I have met some amazing women who have been through similar circumstances and who have filled an immense gap in my life with empowerment and love.  I am part of a small family of women who meet monthly to support each other and the resounding effects of traumatic birth experiences.  If you have experienced birth trauma, I highly suggest finding a support group of some kind and go tell your story.  It has been the biggest blessing, especially on those days where I find images coming to me and the rage I feel is almost uncontrollable.  I try not to focus on this, but I feel like if I wouldn’t have gotten back in the bed each time they asked me, it is possible that Zephyr wouldn’t have stayed stuck. But it is all maybes and what-ifs now.  He’s here and we have such a strong bond.

Shawna breastfeeding Zephyr near a creek in the woods

Blooming Wild Photography

This experience has helped me grow as a parent, believe it or not. I am now also a very conscientious parent – constantly checking myself to make sure that I don’t let the shadow of my birth experience overthrow my belief in giving my child the freedom and autonomy to explore this world without a helicopter parent.  The most important thing is finding a way to bring light into a world with so much darkness.  My son is going to be two on April 23rd this year and he is a constant reminder of what beautiful things can grow from chaos.

Punk Mamas had a few follow up questions for Shawna – we wanted to know what she would have done differently, how to find support after a traumatic birth, and how to navigate breastfeeding when healthcare providers aren’t offering the support you need.  Here are her responses:

What would you do differently if you have the opportunity?

I would absolutely hire a doula.  My family and husband were wonderful, but they don’t understand unnecessary interventions and ultimately could not help me advocate for myself adequately.  If I would have had a doula, I would have felt more comfortable laboring at home a bit longer, which would have allowed me to relax.  I never actually wanted a hospital birth because hospitals give me anxiety, but Zephyr was an unplanned pregnancy and we did not have the money to have a homebirth at that time.

The reason I chose Gettysburg hospital was because I thought those midwives had my back.  What it turned out to be was that all but one of them were entirely misleading in how they would assist and support me through the birthing process.  Next time, I do not have a choice but to go to a hospital that is VBAC-friendly, but I will be much more prone to questioning my provider and ensuring that we have a good, understanding relationship surrounding what I would like to aim for in terms of a birth process.  I didn’t feel like I needed to do that the first time around because I was assured that they wanted the same things for me.  I would also choose a hospital that offers a NICU because the pain of knowing that you are in a place 30 miles away, crying for your child while he is in another place crying for you is just too much.

Where did you find a support group for your traumatic birth experience?

The group that I am a part of requires attendance to an in-person meeting before joining the Facebook group.  I discovered them through a local resource for parents and children called Om Baby Center in Camp Hill, which is where I took my cloth diaper and breastfeeding education classes.  If you live in the south central Pennsylvania area and struggle with birth trauma, I would be happy to support you in finding an outlet and circle of women to help you navigate your feelings.  I would say the internet is the best place to search to find what is right for you.  If you don’t see something in your area, look into starting your own group.  It is a lot of work, but we need educated, compassionate individuals to help support families through these distressing experiences.

Punk Mamas has selected a few online resources regarding traumatic birth as a research starting point:

Improving Birth‘s mission is to Inform, Support, Engage and Empower Consumers, Community Leaders and Providers with Tools to Improve Birth.

Prevention and Treatment of Traumatic Childbirth (PATTCh) is a collective of birth and mental health experts dedicated to the prevention and treatment of traumatic childbirth.

Solace for Mothers is an organization designed for the sole purpose of providing and creating support for women who have experienced childbirth as traumatic.

What about navigating breastfeeding on your own, were there any books, groups, websites, or apps that you would recommend to anyone not receiving the support they need from healthcare providers?

I was the first person in my family to breastfeed their child successfully, so my family really had no clue how to encourage or support me.  I was so thankful that I had taken a breastfeeding education class through Om Baby Center because it gave me the confidence to call the nurses out on their misinformation.  I felt equipped with knowledge to start out strong, which was so imperative to my success.

After Zephyr was born, I found myself reading Ina May’s Guide to Breastfeeding, which just continued to help me feel empowered.  With random moments of panic or concern, I found myself online with the (local) Harrisburg/Mechanicsburg Breastfeeding Support Group on Facebook, which is a large group of mamas in the Harrisburg area who have been or are all on their own breastfeeding journey.  That group was an invaluable resource for me when parental anxieties started to knock me down and I am so grateful to have found them.  Another great resource that I recommend to all breastfeeding mothers is Kelly Mom because it provides answers and reassurance to just about every wall you could possibly meet in your breastfeeding journey.

Shawna S. can be reached via e-mail at ssheely113@gmail.com

Sarah’s birth story

Reading birth stories was a big part of preparing myself for the birth of my son.  The openness and honesty in each one helped me understand the process, let go of expectations, and boost my confidence.  I hope sharing my own experience will help others in the same way.

My son was due on November 21st, but I was convinced throughout the pregnancy that he would arrive early.  I believed this because I had originally been given a due date of two weeks earlier, so I figured he’d be born somewhere between the original due date and the “new” due date.  On November 20th I found myself at a doctor’s appointment, still pregnant.  At this 40 week appointment, the OBGYN started discussing plans for the following week which would involve an ultrasound and a potential induction.  I let her know that I wanted to wait as long as possible before inducing, because I was set on having the most natural labor possible, and she said we could discuss further next week.  My due date came and went.

I went to bed around 10pm on the 22nd, and a little after midnight I woke for one of my many nightly potty breaks and noticed I had lost my mucus plug in the toilet.  I insisted my husband look at it to confirm it was a mucus plug and he suggested I call my doula.  She told me on the phone, “losing a mucus plug means the baby is coming soon!  It could be hours or it could be days.  Just rest up and be patient!”  I went back to bed, with my husband, and we began talking about how exciting it was that we were that much closer to meeting our baby.  About 15 minutes after losing my mucus plug, and while lying in bed with my husband, I sneezed the biggest sneeze and felt a rush of fluid shoot out of me!  I yelled in surprise that my water broke and ran to the bathroom to clean up as my husband cleaned the bed.  We were both laughing hysterically at the fact that a sneeze broke my water (and drenched the bed)!  I immediately started getting contractions that were about 5-6 minutes apart so I called my doula back to let her know.  She suggested I rest and follow up with her when the contractions got closer and harder.  My husband and I decided to sleep downstairs on the (dry!) couches and he held my hand through each contraction that night.  Our doula came over in the morning and assisted with labor with the help of a birthing ball and warm baths.  It was 1pm on the 23rd when we decided it was time to go to the hospital.

The nurse pushing me from the emergency room entrance to the maternity ward likely set a record for speed; my hair was blowing in the wind and my husband and our doula were barely keeping up.  The hospital staff was not happy that I waited so long to come in – they had wanted me in immediately after my water broke.  I was 6cm dilated, so after being monitored I labored in the tub, shower (my favorite!), standing up, sitting on a birthing ball, lying on my side with a peanut, etc.  I eventually had to labor hooked up to the monitor because my son was having an irregular heartbeat.  When I hit around 30 hours of laboring the midwife on duty began asking me if I had the urge to push, which I kept replying, “no, but I feel a lot of pressure.”  After the same question a few more times, they decided to have me start pushing anyway since I was 10cm dilated.  I pushed for two hours and NOTHING happened.  I also suffered from horrible indigestion.  My husband ate Chipotle and one of the nurses told him he should brush his teeth because the smell of a burrito may make me sick, but the first moment I caught a whiff of his hot, minty toothpaste breath, I got sick and everyone scrambled to get me one of those blue hospital puke bags!  After that, most pushes were followed up with me losing more of the honey sticks, crackers, apple juice, and peanut butter that I had in my stomach from all of my snacking during labor.  They gave me oral medicine to help with it, but it didn’t work.  My doula and midwife would later tell me they never saw anything like it!  The midwife, who seemed very impatient, told me that the baby was stuck in my pelvic bone and that I would need a C-section, so she called in the on-call doctor.

The doctor came in and checked me and told me she was going to prep me for the C-section for a multiple reasons: 1) because the baby was stuck due to my body being so tense from a long labor, 2) because the baby’s heartbeat was irregular, 3) because my water had been broken for over 24 hours and the baby was at risk for infection, and 4) because my contractions were slowing down.  I was exhausted at this point and honestly, while a C-section was not what I wanted or planned for, having an end in sight sounded marvelous; I was ready to meet my boy!  Since I had not had any pain medication up until this point, my doula had an idea.  She spoke up and asked the doctor if I could get an epidural, take a nap, and try pushing again rather than jump right in to a C-section.  If our doula hadn’t of been there, my husband and I would have never known to to propose this idea!  The doctor agreed that we could try, so I dropped my plans of going all natural and got an epidural, pitocin, and an intravenous heartburn medication, and took the best two hour nap that I had ever had.  While I was waiting for my epidural, I finally understood what the midwife meant by “pushing contractions,” however, at this point my energy was zapped and I felt so defeated.

During my best nap ever, there was a shift change and the midwife I absolutely loved and wanted for my son’s birth came in with a doctor I hadn’t met before.  When I woke up the doctor checked me and said I could try pushing again, but if there wasn’t progress he wouldn’t be able to use the vacuum on me and would need to do a C-section.  I could tell by his tone he was doubtful I would be successful with a vaginal birth.  Once he left the room, the midwife said “psssh…you got this!” and I was eager to start trying again!  I pushed for the next two hours and watched with a mirror and saw that I was finally progressing!  Using a mirror was SO helpful for me because it allowed me to see what I was actually doing with each push.  Seeing the top of my son’s head was the best encouragement and motivation!  In between pushing, the hospital staff and I discussed the best pizza in the area and it was shocking to me how much more comfortable I was pushing this time around – was it the staff change or the epidural?!  My midwife was also very engaged in delivering this baby – in addition to pulling on the bar while I pushed, I also spent many contractions doing “tug-o-war” with my midwife and a bedsheet.  My doula was great support though all of the pushing and helped remind me which areas I should focus on pushing from, and she would squeeze pressure points in my hands to (I assume) help alleviate pain.  My husband was steady with the ice chips and a cold rag on my head.  While I finally saw my baby’s entire head in the mirror, I was ecstatic, and one push later I delivered his whole body and he was immediately placed on my chest.  He nursed right away and we waited until his cord stopped pulsing and before it was cut by my husband, who was told by the nurse it was “like cutting a piece of chicken.”  We cried together while we looked our screaming boy over and fell in love with him as he held our fingers with his little hands!  After the initial inspection of the “damage” down there, I was told I had a 3rd degree tear and received extensive stitching; however, the doctor later let me know it was actually a 2nd degree tear that was on the cusp of being 3rd degree.  I was also told I had “very bad bruising” since my baby was stuck for such a long time.

Atticus was exactly 8 pounds and 20 inches at birth, and labor lasted a total of 36 hours of labor.  His irregular heartbeat cleared up within two days and we were able to take him home on Thanksgiving day!  My recovery took a little longer, but that is a whole other story!

Andrea’s maternity shoots

Punk Mama Andrea M. is expecting her first baby in April and was kind enough to share her story surrounding her beautiful and powerful maternity shoots on the blog.  As this blog was created to be a collaborative space, we look forward to hearing from other Punk Mamas in the future!

 
My very first thought after having a positive pregnancy test was, “Oh man, I cannot wait to get maternity photos done!”  My secret baby Pinterest board was jam-packed full of reference maternity photos long before we ever even announced.  So, once we received the good news, I immediately asked two photographers that I used for previous photo shoots – one of them even took our announcement photos. The process of having maternity photos done has been one of the highlights of my pregnancy, and I’m excited to share it with you today!

maternity announcement with paper scrolls in eggs

Photo Credit: Charles Martin

I am no stranger to the camera; I have modeled on and off for most of my life; paid, trade, and for fun.  Needless to say, maternity photos were a personal and exciting way for me to celebrate my pregnancy.  I chose to do two separate maternity shoots: an outdoor-woodsy type shoot, and a natural, more intimate studio shoot.  I had so many ideas and styles of maternity photos that I loved that provided great reference material.  I knew I needed Valerie Leatherman of Bunker Hill, WV to take my outdoor photos, and Charles (Chuck) Martin of Glen Burnie, MD to do my studio set.

While I had done dozens upon dozens of photo shoots before these, I don’t think anything could have prepared me for this experience.  Pre-pregnancy, I would pride myself on being able to naturally transition from pose to pose.  But while being pregnant, a giant, growing, and moving belly can get in the way and change things a bit!  I found that I couldn’t quite move or position my body in the ways that I wanted to and was used to.  Even when I thought I was posing exactly how I wanted, I would see the photos and notice a very natural but completely unflattering fold of skin, and have to completely reevaluate my posing game plan – not that a natural look is a bad thing, I was just going for something more polished.  Surprisingly, the day before my first shoot (the outdoor set) I had a lot of anxiety because I had never done anything like this before.  I reached out to some fellow Punk Mamas for advice, and Amber kindly shared with me a couple of infographics with flattering posing suggestions. Candyfield’s Photography’s Pregnancy and Maternity Photography Guide was an invaluable resource when learning which poses would best show off my baby bump while still looking flattering.

Surprisingly, my wardrobe selection may have been one of the most taxing parts of the process.  I worried so much about picking the “perfect” dresses, getting it in the right size (which is nearly impossible to do when pregnant and ordering online!), and then learning to pose my body in each outfit.  For my outdoor shoot, I looked for dresses that portrayed an aura of nature, elegance, purity, and power – like a goddess.  I wanted to make sure that I looked and felt beautiful in it, and if I could wear it again, than that would be a bonus!  I shopped online for a couple of options, which was a real hit or miss experience for me.  I ordered one gown that I absolutely loved, but it ended up being way too small aka I couldn’t fit my arms and my boobs in at the same time.  My last minute option was to head to the mall, and I surprisingly found a few options there.  Selecting items to wear for my studio shoot was much easier.  Since the studio shoot was going to be more simple and intimate, I was able to wear lingerie, delivery robes, and comfortable sweaters.

I had decided to do my maternity photo shoots around 28-30 weeks pregnant, that way I would be visibly pregnant but not physically miserable or uncomfortably large.  I am due in late April, so this meant that my photo shoots would need to be scheduled for February.  And yes, my outdoor shoot was before Maryland’s rare and unusual February heatwave!  The day of my outdoor shoot ended up being around 40 degrees, but with the wind chill it felt well under 30 degrees!  I was freezing and I think it shows on my face.  But I also think I look fierce and powerful, so I love how they turned out.

My studio shoot was amazing and I was able to work with a talented group of people.  Chuck has done tons of studio shoots for me as well as head shots for my makeup clients (Beauts by Dre).  His lovely girlfriend Beth always tags along to help with posing and essentially is an extra set of eyes – she was my saving grace in this shoot as I was much more exposed and intimately posed.  One thing I experienced as a result of these photos was the strong reactions they elicited.  I received incredible responses from all – strangers, friends, and family.  But I also received some very negative responses from some family about my studio shoot for it being “too revealing.”  This was certainly not the first time I’ve gotten comments on how revealing or risqué a shoot I’ve done was, but it was definitely disappointing because I put a ton of work into making sure it was very tasteful, natural, elegant, and celebratory of the life I am nurturing.  To be honest, disappointing is an understatement, I was very upset and hurt by it and had waves of strong emotions that ranged between wanting to cancel my baby shower to vowing to never leave my house again.  Hormones had nothing to do with this…HA!  I did end up removing the studio photos that I shared on Facebook to avoid any further negative comments on them, but I still post them on Instagram and in “safe spaces.”  While these maternity photos were not everyone’s cup-o-tea, I am so pleased with how they turned out as well and I so happy that there are people out there that love these images as much as I do.  In fact, my boyfriend’s reaction to my maternity photos may have been one of my favorite parts of this experience – his support and positive reactions made this experience that much more incredible.

When looking back on these images, I will remember what an intense and emotional process it was – a perfect reflection of pregnancy.  There were moments that were difficult and taxing for me physically (the wind chill), and it was also draining on me mentally (dealing with unnecessary criticism from family members).  Not to mention, the pressure I put on myself to have the perfect maternity photos to remember this beautiful period in my life.  When I look back at these photos, I will remember the roller coaster ride they took me on, just as my pregnancy has.  Every bump in the road, and every hiccup, means I am that much closer to the beauty that waits at the end.

If there is a “moral of the story” in this ridiculously long blog post, it is that maternity photos are personal, beautiful, and raw, and something every expecting mama should do if the opportunity arises.  If I had the chance again, I would do it exactly the same and wouldn’t change a single thing.  Do it for you and do it in a way that reflects this passing moment in your life.  I love every single image that was taken, even the more unflattering ones that emanate honesty and sacrifice and love.  Doing a maternity shoot, let alone two, was such an amazing and empowering experience for me and I’ve never felt more beautiful or strong as a woman.

 

 

Books we love

We have put together a list of a few books regarding pregnancy and parenting that we love and recommend to all you mothers or soon-to-be mothers.  We hope they are as helpful to you as they were to us!

Bringing Up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting

51yzwwbhthl-_sx324_bo1204203200_Reading this was like talking to a friend who calmly just shugs and explains things how they are – so simple, so matter-of-fact.  The biggest thing that I got out of this book was that there are two mindsets for raising a baby – your baby can adapt to your lifestyle (French) or you can adapt to baby’s lifestyle (American).  Raising children is TOUGH, and there is no perfect way to raise ALL babies, but some of the ideas in this book worked well for my family, so I recommend it to others, as it may spark some inspiration! – Sarah C.

Cherish the First Six Weeks: A Plan that Creates Calm, Confident Parents and a Happy, Secure Baby

51mxnlqpyyl-_sx325_bo1204203200_I have recommended this book to all my friends who have had babies since me as I credit this book to my son being great with a schedule and being a great sleeper during night hours!  However, few friends have had the same success, so it is important to remember that a baby’s sleep schedule is part nature and part nurture.  After I had my son, I would read one chapter a week, corresponding with my son’s age.  It helped me understand where he was developmentally, how his needs may change from week to week, and also what a “normal” schedule could look like.  If you are driven by schedules and are having a baby soon, check this book out! – Sarah C.

The Continuum Concept: In Search of Happiness Lost

51uww7o098l-_sx318_bo1204203200_[This book] completely changed the way I treated my second baby.  It’s written by an American lady who in the 70s lived with an Indian tribe in South America where babies never cried, toddlers never tantrumed.  My baby never cried, but he has had one or two tantrums as a toddler.  The key is 24/7 contact with another human for the first 6 to 9 months of life.  It’s pretty amazing. – Brooke A.

Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth

unknownLove the positive birth stories mixed with straightforward medical and physiological information.  This book really helped me get into a good mindset for a natural birth.– Leah J.

This book was just what I needed in the months leading up to the birth of my first son as I was very nervous about labor.  Reading this book gave me the BIGGEST boost of confidence.  The first half is solely dedicated to sharing women’s childbirth stories and focuses on all the positive and empowering aspects of childbirth.  I’ll admit, I rolled my eyes at some of the stories because the births were just SO pleasurable, but it was nice to take in birth stores that weren’t just focused on the worst pain of your life (as often seen in movies). – Sarah C.

My Mother Wears Combat Boots

61-nepeynrl-_sx329_bo1204203200_I tried looking to traditional traditional sources for what to expect as I progress but they were all falling flat and just making more more anxious. This book, the authors voice is exactly what I needed.  She’s relatable – she speaks about things almost candidly, and she’s knowledgeable.  I’m not quite finished yet but I already can’t wait to re-read it.  This book also made me feel a lot more comfortable about the life that I live and how I’m expecting to raise my children.  It’s really great to have someone to look up to that I can relate to. – Ashley M.

Sippy Cups are Not for Chardonnay: And Other Things I had to Learn as a New Mom

41wim1bl5gl-_sx313_bo1204203200_This book (written by a comedian) was hilarious, and really helped alleviate some of the anxiety I was experiencing leading up to my due date.  It’s a healthy dose of real-talk and sarcasm, which I thoroughly appreciated, especially when I was eyeballs deep in all the other “what to expect” type books! – Jenn P.

The Year After Childbirth: Surviving and Enjoying the First Year of Motherhood

41wivylcf-l-_sx326_bo1204203200_She’s one of my favorites in the birth world and while the book starts off a little bit early Ina-esque, it becomes more informational.  Overall, I would say it addresses the emotional aspects of the transition to motherhood. – Jennifer D.