Archive for October, 2011

Halloween… and Convergent Evolution

Happy Halloween!

For Sagan’s first Halloween, Ryan and I wanted to pick something delightfully geeky. Star Trek was too obvious and “Tetris Piece” looked like it would be uncomfortable for Sagan to wear… or more importantly, uncomfortable for Mommy to put on Sagan.  Every time I have to put something on over his head, I remind him about the birth canal but he seems to find little solace in precedence.

Ryan suggested “Gir” from Invader Zim. Sagan’s Aunt Carolyn is a big Gir fan and even has a handmade Gir hat! I have friends in Washington State who named their dog after Gir. Ryan’s suggestion seemed like it would be an instant score in a niche audience!


So how does one with limited time make a costume for a 16 week old baby? Well, to help answer that question I needed to look no further than Kitty’s Heart of Nature. Last year for her daughter’s first Halloween, Kitty made adorable owl costumes, using brown hoodies as the base.

I ordered a reversible green jacket (with hood!) from Precious Cargo. Take your handy glue gun, a supply of felt and two foam balls and voila– Gir costume.

Sagan - Halloween - Outfit Alone
Gir Costume

And like the “real Gir”, Sagan could be completely in disguise or reveal his inner self.

Sagan - Halloween - Gir (Hood Down) with Mommy
Who’s Gir?

Sagan - Halloween - Riding as Gir
Sagan’s Gir!!!

Even though I copied Kitty’s hoodie technique, I was still feeling pretty creative and unique. That is, until I did a search on “Gir Hoodie”. It turns out, there are quite a few Gir Halloween costumes out there. As I scanned the photos in Google and Flickr, I realized I had taken part in a demonstration of convergent evolution.

Convergent evolution is when unrelated species independently acquire the same biological trait. A good example is wings. Mammals, birds and insects all “invented” the wing and guess what, they were reinventing something the reptiles had done way back in the day of the pterodactyls!

Convergent Evolution
Photos by Michael Pennay, CaptPiper, and tanakawho

Really when you boil it down, convergent evolution is about problem solving. An organism is presented with a challenge in its environment and it comes up with a solution. Sometimes the solution is such a perfect fit to the problem, it is just asking to be discovered again…and again…and again.

Such is the case with the Gir Halloween Costume.

You have a green character whose head can peel back and reveal his robot self.

Uh… green hooded article of clothing. Duh!!!

Convergent Girs
(Photo Credits: DilanofDreams, spookykittencouture, windmillcookie, and ME!)

Sagan’s costume does have one thing going for it. I didn’t find any other babies dressed up as Gir.

“He’s the only Gir that’s about the right size,” Ryan pointed out. 🙂

11/1/2011 Update! – Sagan is NOT the only baby dressed up as Gir. Check out adorable little Paige and her vastly superior Gir costume! (Hat Tip, Scott!)

There are more pictures of Sagan in his Gir costume on Flickr and there are plenty of pictures of other Gir costumes all over the internet.

P.S. If you are interested in purchasing a Gir costume for yourself, SpookyKittenCoutures (pictured above) does do custom orders. You can also find a whole slew of Gir-themed products at HotTopic.

October 30, 2011 at 11:51 pm 2 comments

Connections with Jane Goodall

On September 19th, my mother was armed with a refrigerator full of breast milk and Ryan and I went on a date! We drove up to American University to observe the “International Day of Peace” by listening to Dr. Jane Goodall speak.

Dr. Goodall is famous for her work with chimpanzees, but she also serves as an U.N. Peace Ambassador. Early in her talk, she established how interest in chimpanzees translates to an interest in world peace. She described the harsh living conditions of the humans near the chimps. Most of the trees were gone and the land was infertile. The people were living in terrible poverty and cutting down the very last trees to survive.

“While they were in that situation, how could you even try to save the chimps?” she asked.

To help the chimpanzees, we needed to help the trees. To help the trees, we needed to help the humans and improve their living conditions. The focus on people has helped. Goodall reported where there was barren land seven years ago, now stands thirty foot trees!

An interest in peace gives Goodall cause to galvanize her commitment to the environment. “Peace and stability can only last,” she said, “if the environment [is in tact].”

Her words and anecdotes remind us how interconnected all the members of an ecosystem are. Our memories are interconnected as well. As Goodall spoke, my mind drew some relations of its own.

Learning Outside
Jane Goodall, Plato, Jesus, Buddha, and Martin Luther King Jr.

That particular afternoon, we had stunning autumn weather and this event took full advantage. It was held outside in the amphitheatre. As we waited for our speaker to hit the stage, I looked around at the formidable audience, inhaled fresh air and felt a strong connection to the students of the past three centuries. 

Plato taught in a garden near Athens. The famous Sermon on the Mount took place outside. Buddha taught “the five” under a tree in Deer Park. In contemporary times, inspirational game changers such as Martin Luther King Jr. taught their philosophies outside. A number of great teachers, it seems, teach outside.

Great Teachers Teach Outside
Plato’s Academy, Sermon on the Mount, Buddha in Deer Park, Martin Luther King on the National Mall

Here I was, outside and eager to learn, just as many students throughout history had done before me and 50% of the world’s students continue to do today.

The Power of Storytelling
Jane Goodall, Kurt Vonnegut Jr., and Ira Glass

Another topic Goodall discussed was how to communicate your points and opinions, particularly to those who are resistant to your ideas. “Never adopt the attitude of ‘I’m right’ and ‘You’re wrong’ because they stop listening.” Instead she recommended to tell stories.

“The best way to reach the heart,” she said, “is through stories.”

Although the stories Goodall was referring to are far from the stories one would find between the covers of Cat’s Cradle or Slaughterhouse-Five, I was reminded of a passage by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. In Wampeters, Foma & Granfalloons, he wrote about the power of Fiction over New Journalism, declaring fiction to be “a much more truthful way of telling the truth.” He believed “the New Journalist isn’t free to tell nearly as much as a fiction writer, to *show* as much. There are many places he can’t take his reader, whereas the fiction writer can take the reader anywhere, including the planet Jupiter” to make his point.

On October 23rd, Ryan and I attended “Reinventing Radio: An Evening with Ira Glass” where the This American Life host spent a good ninety minutes on the power of narrative story telling over traditional journalism. During his first three years of “This American Life” Glass thought that he was an innovator and had developed the perfect formula for telling a story. When he went home for the High Holidays, however, he attended a sermon and noticed the same pattern. It was then he realized his technique of story telling was far from new.

“I invented something that was old when Jesus did it!” he lamented.

But it may be that thousands of years of experience that gives storytelling its power. Glass spoke on a story’s ability to invoke empathy and to help even political adversaries to see each other in a different light.

“There is something in how we are built as people to interact with a story.” he said.

The best way to the heart, indeed.

Power Of Stories
Jane Goodall by the World Bank Photo Collection, Kurt Vonnegut by Rashawerakh, Ira Glass by kuer90.1

Surprises in Favorite Accomplishments
Jane Goodall and Thomas Jefferson

Of all the possible accomplishments in this world, I would expect “President of the United States of America” to be one of the more noteworthy endeavors to include on one’s tombstone. That inscription, however, is missing from the grave of our nation’s third President. Thomas Jefferson picked three accomplishments he wanted to preserve.

Jefferson’s Tombstone (Photo by jplouis)

The last item on the list was “Father of the University of Virginia”. Jefferson took more pride in UVA than he did of being President. The Louisiana Purchase was under his tenure, doubling our nation’s size! But that paled in comparison to establishing the nation’s first nonsectarian university and educating the minds of the future.

During the Question and Answer session, Jane Goodall was asked, “What’s the best thing you’ve done?” Her answer was “giving young people opportunity to understand you can make a difference every single day” through her organization “Roots and Shoots“. Roots and Shoots focuses on involving youth in service projects around the world. Right now, there are Roots and Shoots programs in 126 countries and counting!

Like Jefferson, she didn’t choose one of the more obvious accomplishments. Like Jefferson, her heart was with her impact on young minds.

UVA and Roots And Shoots
Two Favorite Accomplishments – Jefferson’s UVA and Goodall’s Roots and Shoots

Wonderful Mommies
Jane Goodall’s Mom…and my Mom

One final connection.  Early in her talk, Jane Goodall talked about how they did not want to allow a young European woman to be alone in the jungle without a chaperone.  As a result, Goodall’s mother came and lived with her in the jungle for four months!  Ryan and I found our afternoon way to be particularly thought-provoking and inspiring.  Just as Jane’s research was supported by her mother, our afternoon was empowered by my own mother.  When the talk concluded, two first-time parents headed home to relieve their “babysitter”. 🙂

Other Recaps of Jane Goodall: A Conversation on Peace
Celebrating the UN’s “International Day of Peace” with Dr. Jane Goodall by ideonexus.
Dr. Jane Goodall’s Townhall Meeting: A Conversation on Peace By AU Ambassadors
What I Learned From Jane Goodall by BushWarriors
Presenting Dr. Jane Goodall by AAANimals

October 25, 2011 at 11:22 pm 1 comment

Mindful Momma: Maple Syrup Tasting

Over the weekend, my mother-in-law recommended the blog “Mindful Momma“. I pulled it up and right there on the first page was a post of interest:

Maple Syrup Tasting!

The author’s family did a Maple Syrup Tasting! MAPLE SYRUP!

A number of years ago, I attended the All Things Olive Festival at Villa Appalachia. There, I got to participate in a series of four tastings – wines, olive oils, olives and a balsamic vinegars. As delicious as those items were, I have a feeling I would fancy a “Maple Syrup Tasting” most of all. What a neat idea to accompany autumn!

Check out Mindful Momma’s full A Maple Syrup Tasting post to read about the syrups they tasted and their findings.

October 24, 2011 at 1:00 am Leave a comment

Pawpaw Alert – Falls Ridge

Blacksburg, Virginia Pawpaw Enthusiasts – When we were at Falls Ridge with Sagan, we saw some pawpaws by the creek above the falls. If you yearn to see a pawpaw fruiting in the wild, that may be a spot worth your attention next fall.

Please note- you’ll want to research The Nature Conservancy’s rules regarding eating them.

Falls Ridge - October 2011 - Pawpaw Leaves and Trunks
Pawpaw Trees

This pawpaw sighting has been added to

October 21, 2011 at 1:00 am Leave a comment

Falls Ridge Preserve with Sagan, 14 Weeks

This week, Ryan and I had a business meeting in beautiful, gorgeous, splendidly stunning Southwest Virginia. Our boss could not have scheduled a better time! We were visiting right in the midst of the changing autumn leaves.

Blacksburg - Fall Colors in Ellett Valley
The View From Where We Were Staying

Although the primary purpose of the trip was business, we had to sneak in a hike with Sagan as well. One afternoon when Sagan was awake, we drove over to the Nature Conservancy’s Falls Ridge Preserve.

When I lived in Blacksburg, I used to take my friend’s son, Penn, out hiking. Over the years, I managed to get a picture of my young hiking buddy in the same spot at Falls Ridge at two years old, five years old and nine years old.

Falls Ridge: Two Year Old Penn at Falls
Falls Ridge: Five Year Old Penn at Falls
Falls Ridge - Penn at Age 8
Penn at Falls Ridge Through the Years

This week, the tradition started again. Ryan and I got a picture of Sagan at the same spot. He needed a little help posing.

Falls Ridge - October 2011 - Sagan Stands on the Falls Ridge Stump 1

Some other shots I’m fond of:

Falls Ridge - October 2011 - Sagan and Ryan At Falls 1
Ryan and Sagan at Falls

Falls Ridge - October 2011 - Vicky Smiles as Sagan Stands on Stump (Close)
Helping Sagan Pose

Falls Ridge - October 2011 - Changing Maple Leaves
Changing Maple Leaves

Falls Ridge - October 2011 - Vicky and Sagan on Trail
Sagan and I on the Trail

Falls Ridge - October 2011 - Creek
Creek Below the Falls

Sagan was awake for most of our hike which was exciting. Of course in the end, he did what he usually does during outings with the Moby Wrap… he fell asleep. : )

Falls Ridge - October 2011 - Vicky and Sleeping Sagan
Sleeping Sagan

October 20, 2011 at 1:00 am 4 comments

Bath Compare

Speaking of baths…. I noticed the photos of Sagan getting a bath demonstrate the growth he has been up to!

Sagan - Day Sixteen - Grandma Gives Him A Bath
July 28th

Sagan - October 15th - Grandma Giving Him a Bath
October 15th

October 20, 2011 at 1:00 am Leave a comment

Those Dreaded Wednesdays and Saturdays

I noticed NOFX is going to be playing in Norfolk, Virginia this weekend. I won’t be making the show, but that doesn’t mean motherhood keeps me from thinking of my favorite band. In fact, I think about them at least twice a week!

Our pediatrician recommended that Sagan get a bath two days a week. I picked “Wednesdays” and “Saturdays”. Sagan is still not a fan of baths, so I have a nice side perk from our selected days… every time Mom and I are preparing the bath I get to belt out a modified chorus of NOFX’s “Shower Days”.

“Those dreaded Wednesdays and Saturdays, also know as [Baaaath] DaaaaAAAAAAYYYYYS! … I hate them!”

Sagan - October 15th - Still Hates Baths
“I Hate Them!”

I had expected my mother to tire of my rendition eventually, but she shows no signs so far. And I have even heard her use the phrase “dreaded Wednesdays and Saturdays” to her little grandson. 🙂

NOFX’s Original Version

October 19, 2011 at 4:28 am 2 comments

Our Birth – Ryan’s Post

The two blog family strikes again! Ryan’s post on Our Childbirth Experience is up on!

In Ryan’s post, he includes ten mini-reviews of childbirth and parenting books he read (Many of them on loan from an american expat in deutschland‘s Christina Geyer). He recaps our experiences with Northeastern OB/GYN in Elizabeth City, North Carolina; About Women OB/GYN in Woodbridge, Virginia; Birth by Design in Chantilly, Virginia, BirthCare in Alexandria, Virginia; and finally, the Alexandria INOVA Hospital.

He also discusses our pregnancy lifestyle, some of our parenting choices and what we’ve learned so far in the first 12 weeks of being parents. Enjoy!

October 11, 2011 at 9:47 am 1 comment

Our Birth Story, the Bradley Method and a Little Bit of Hiking Too!

On Tuesday July 12th, I had to call my Bradley Method instructor and let her know that we wouldn’t be making it to our evening birth class. We had a good excuse– earlier that day we had given birth! And even though we had only made it through eight of the twelve classes, we were able to follow through with our plans of a natural, unmedicated birth!

I had some “good” genes on my side. My mother and great aunt both had fast labors. My water broke at 4:30 AM. Contractions started shortly afterwards. We checked in with our midwives at the birth center before transferring to the hospital (because Sagan was 2 days short of 36 weeks). I was nine centimeters dilated shortly upon arrival at the hospital and fully dilated waiting for the urge to push at 10 AM. Sagan was born at 12:02 PM EST. The whole process was about 7 1/2 hours and not as hard as I expected it to be.

Vicky and Sagan! (Photo by Ryan Somma)

Afterwards I was energized and happy, able to post on Facebook, call friends and get up and urinate on my own.

Sagan - First Facebook Post
My First Postpartum Post to Facebook was 50 Minutes After Sagan’s Birth

When I got moved up to my postpartum room, a nurse came in to greet me and told me, “Now once you urinate twice, we can take this saline lock off of you.”

“I already urinated **six** times!” I told her. (See “Coach Tip – Orange Juice” below).

I also took pride when I walked over to the nursery and took the nurses by surprise. “You aren’t dizzy?” one asked and I heard another note that I didn’t look like a woman who just had a baby. : )

Background on Bradley Decision
Unfortunately, among my close female friends and peers, pregnancy and birth has had a little bit of a bad wrap. Everyone seemed to have uncomfortable pregnancies and difficult child birth experiences. Luckily, I had a solid role model in Ryan’s mother. She birthed all four of her children naturally after reading Grantly Dick-Read’s Childbirth Without Fear.

I also stumbled on a role model on the Internet! I originally subscribed to Kitty’s Heart of Nature for… well, great hearts in nature shots, but when she gave birth to her first child, I found her A Natural, Medication-Free Birth Story… the Bradley Way! post memorable. It would be eleven months later that Ryan and I found out that we were expecting, but that post was still fresh in my mind.

Ryan and I both did a lot of reading on childbirth and pregnancy and following Kitty and Gare, we added “Natural Childbirth the Bradley Way” and “Husband-Coached Childbirth” to our reading lists. We also read a book on Hypnobirthing, but I didn’t quite connect with some of the visualization activities (Rainbow Mist and the Cervix Ribbons).

I did connect highly with the Bradley Method. The needs of a laboring women made sense to me in the context of how other mammals gave birth. Relaxing and trusting your body seemed a good way to go.  I loved Dr. Bradley’s attitudes on preparation and exercise. And it didn’t hurt that Husband Coached Childbirth included THIS graphic:

Labor Like Climbing a Mountain!!!  LIKE HIKING!!!  HIKING!!!

To me, that illustration looked very much like the elevation gain of the Appalachian Trail’s Angel’s Rest. When you hit the Transition Stage, you’d be at the thick rhododendron patch near the top of Pearis Mountain. It’s the steepest part, but the shortest part. A few more hills and then you’ll be at a beautiful overlook! Then some more hiking and you’ll be at ANOTHER even MORE beautiful overlook.

And how many times had I been on a hike and wanted to cry and didn’t think I could continue? Each time my body knew its capabilities better than my mind. Each time my body could carry me to my destination with ease.

After reading both books, Ryan and I went ahead and signed up for some Bradley Method classes.

Prep – Exercise
We started the exercises well before our Bradley’s classes. Tailor sitting came naturally to me as I often sit that way anyway. I had to actively practice squatting and improvements came fast. I was secretly aspiring to be the best squatter in class before class even started. Although there was no opportunity for head to head squatting competitions, I suspect I could hold my own. : )

In addition to the recommended Bradley exercises (butterflies, heel points, tailor sitting, pelvic rocks, kegels), I tried to keep my aerobic fitness up as well. Alternating between elliptical, biking, hiking, swimming, weight lifting and walking, I was getting about 5 days of exercise a week in during the third trimester.

I don’t have a control group (a me in a parallel universe) to support it, but I do whole-heartedly believe I owe a large part of my easy pregnancy from start to finish to exercise.

Interestingly enough, one of the more direct perks I saw from exercise was with burping. That’s right. During Transition, I experienced that particular side effect. It wasn’t the most pleasant (or convenient) of sensations when your body is doing so much work, but thanks to exercise it was a familiar sensation. I found burping during labor to be very much like burping while lap swimming or during a long run.

(See Also Our Birth Appendix – Third Trimester Exercise)

Prep – Relaxation
Relaxation exercises we started back in February with Lent, again well before we started class. When we did start classes, I could tell immediately that Ryan was going to be an effective coach for me. His voice was soothing and easy to lock in on and forget our surroundings. Listening to his voice, I could easily tune out our classmates and instructor.

Prep – Nutrition
While we were taking Bradley Classes, we were filling out Nutrition Worksheets documenting everything we ate and their protein content. I found this process to be very motivational when keeping your diet in check. For example, if I was tempted with a dessert, I would think whether I would want to write that dessert down. Very often, I would forego that dessert so a few days later I could indulge in the ultimate dessert– the Tollhouse Cookiewich. : )

Week 7
Sample Nutrition Worksheet

(See Also Our Birth Appendix – Nutrition Worksheets)

Prep – Homework
I was advised by my aunt to not just take childbirth classes.  “Make sure to do your homework,” she warned, “because I didn’t!”

The night before Sagan was born, Ryan and I were doing just that.  We finished typing up our Birth Plan and made a trip to Walmart to pick up our all birthing and coaching supplies.  We almost didn’t go!  Right before we were leaving for Walmart, my brother surfaced with an invitation to see Transformers 3.  Ryan and I were tempted.  “We do have five more weeks,” we thought aloud.  But in the end, we followed through with our plans.  Good thing too!  : )

(See Also Our Birth Appendix – Birth Plan)

Labor – Premature Rupture of Membranes
I woke up in the middle of the night feeling a little discomfort. This isn’t unusual and I knew just what the doctor ordered. I got up and urinated. Only I still felt a little discomfort. I knew what that meant! The next likely culprit was GAS! I moved my hips and pelvis to help facilitate its journey and soon I felt better. I was just about to drift back to sleep when I became aware of a rush of moisture.

“OH NO!” I jumped up waking Ryan, “There’s fluid! There’s fluid!”

Right then our 14 year old greyhound mix, Jimmie, had an accident of his own. Ryan likes to speculate on Jimmie’s perspective of the night. “Jimmie takes a dump in the bed. Ryan and Vicky freak out, pack bags and leave.”

I ran into the bathroom and there was nothing ambiguous about it. My water had definitely broken. It was so far from ambiguous, I jumped in the bathtub to keep from making a mess.

I told Ryan, “It’s too early. It’s too early.”

This was in reference to BirthCare. We had just attended our Birthday Planning meeting the week before where we were told we had to be 36 weeks to deliver with BirthCare. We were 35 Weeks and 5 Days.

I also recall saying, “The wedding!” Ryan’s sister would be getting married 3 days later. Something told me we were going to miss it. 

Ryan called BirthCare.  The midwife on call was Alice.  Ryan told her how the fluid was clear and that I had felt the baby move recently.  She asked us to meet her at the Birth Center at 6 AM.  Ryan and I went on a mad dash to get all our supplies.  Since we had just done our homework the night before, we knew exactly where everything was.  : )

Labor – Empty Gas Tank
The first contractions (I was aware of) started as we packed up the car.  They weren’t painful, just sensations of pressure.  The night before when doing our Bradley class homework, Ryan and I had read how as your due date approaches, you should always keep a 1/2 tank of gas in your car.  Well, since we had just read that we hadn’t had time to heed that advice.  Yup, the Prius was low on gas.  So we had to stop at our local Shell station on the way out. 

Labor – Drive to BirthCare
We lucked out with the timing.  If this had happened any later, we would have been stuck in full blown D.C. rush hour.  Although we didn’t have bad traffic heading to Alexandria, it did look bad at first when we merged on 95 and were greeted with brake lights.

“It’s okay,” Ryan said, “It’s still moving.”  Right then he had to slam on his brakes to not hit the stopped car in front of him.  : )

That traffic thinned out, I worked on our Pre-Admittance form for the hospital and before I knew it, we were near our exit on I-495.  We had a very pretty sunrise to look at and as we neared our exit, I realized Ryan had changed the radio station from our usual CSPAN/NPR to Classical Music.  That was a nice sneaky touch of him.

“The universe always takes care of us,” Ryan reminded me along the way.  He’s right.  The universe does seem to be particularly generous to us.

Labor – Checking In at BirthCare
We got to the Birth Center and when the midwife, Alice, greeted me, fresh liquid was dribbling down my legs. “That’s definitely fluid” she said.

Alice was remorseful. She had reviewed our chart and noticed my belly had been running a little large the whole pregnancy. She suspected that perhaps my due date was off and that I was actually less early than we thought. Unfortunately, she couldn’t think of a way to admit us to BirthCare. She called ahead and arranged for us to go to Alexandria INOVA Hospital. She kept apologizing, but Ryan and I already knew that would be our fate and we were okay with it.

Meanwhile, I learned just how much amniotic fluid I had been toting around all this time. I had thought the bulk of it had already emerged back in Occoquan. Nope. As we talked to Alice, with each contraction, large amounts of fluid emerged out of me and I’m afraid made a mess of her poor office. So while she apologized for us having to go to the hospital, I apologized to her for making such a mess (which I’m certain she was used to).

Labor – Drive to Alexandria INOVA Hospital
Alice gave us directions to the hospital and we made our way there.  I ate 75% of a Chewy Trail Mix bar along the way.  Contractions were significantly more noticeable and they seemed to be quite frequent.  We weren’t timing them as Ryan was driving.  We started to get confused with the directions, so I programmed the hospital on my Android phone.  I remember during one contraction Ryan asked, “What does Google say?” and I was still able to answer him.

Speed Humps, which are normally an annoyance, I can report are SUPER annoying when you having a contraction.  I can also report when a dump truck stops right in front of you and starts to back up and take its time getting ready for its days’ work…That’s annoying as well. 

When Ryan and I arrived at the hospital, we had trouble finding the Women and Infant entrance.  “It’s okay,” I told him, “We can drive around the building.”  I didn’t feel like the situation was dire.  It’s funny how it only takes a few minutes for things to change.

After circling the building, Ryan parked at an entrance to go in and ask.  It was while he was gone, I had a pretty hard contraction and found myself whining outloud, “Hurry Ryan.  Hurry Ryan”.

He came running back and reported we were in the right spot.

I got out of the car and started to walk in the entrance and had another contraction.  I just stood there until Ryan asked, “Do you want to lean on something until it is over?”  That sounded like a fine idea, so I leaned on a nearby newspaper vending machine until it was done.  We started walking again and a stranger asked if I needed a wheelchair.  I told him I would be okay.

We got in the elevator and experienced another contraction on the way to the third floor.  We went to the intercom on the third floor.  Ryan announced “My wife is in labor” and they told us we had to go to the second floor.  I didn’t say anything, but I was not thrilled about having to get back on that same dang elevator.  : )

We got to the second floor, answered questions and signed paperwork between contractions.  At that point we were taken to a triage/screening room.

Labor – Emotional Sign Posts
The Bradley Method teaches the Emotional Sign Posts of Labor. In other words, ways to tell where a woman is at in labor based on how she is behaving. One of the most notable sign posts is the “Self Doubt” stage a woman reaches when she is in Transition (5 centimeters – 10 centimeters dilated).

Ryan and I had no idea how accurate that sign post would be. Shortly after we arrived at INOVA Alexandria Hospital, I had that feeling of self doubt. After a few hard contractions I told Ryan, “I don’t think I can do this. I don’t think I can do this.” The reason I thought that was we had just gotten to the hospital. We were just starting out! If I felt this way now, how would I feel hours later? Ryan too was concerned I was feeling that way so early.

It turns out I was already 9 centimeters dilated! The Emotional Sign Post was DEAD ON. As soon as I found that out– self doubt was eradicated for the rest of the day.

Labor – Lack of Modesty
Perhaps Ryan and I should have suspected my progress. Another aspect of later stages of labor we read about was the mother losing her modesty. By the time we reached the hospital, I had absolutely NO modesty. After they checked me in, they took me to a screening area and a nurse asked me to put on a hospital gown.

I immediately stripped my maternity dress over my head, revealing my nude body to one and all.

“Hold on!” the nurse shouted, “Let me close the curtain!”  : )

Putting that hospital gown on was a pretty futile gesture. It wasn’t long before it was off again. I spent most of my labor completely nude and I never cared one bit.

Definite Lack of Modesty (Modesty has been subsequently restored) (Photo by Ryan Somma)

Labor – Transfer to Labor/Delivery Room
When I found out I was nine centimeters dilated, I relaxed quite a bit.  The nursing staff, on the other hand, had to get to work.  They needed to get me a labor room.  When it was ready, they wheeled me to the other room.   I was incredibly surprised and thankful I didn’t have to get up for that transfer process.  I had my eyes closed during the transfer.  I didn’t see where they were taking me, but I remember how purely refreshing the breeze on my face was.

Labor – Visualizations

During Transition and my Self Doubt phase (before we knew I was nine centimeters), a nurse did give me a visualization activity that I found effective. She told me to imagine a flame that I was blowing on and making flicker. That actually worked quite well and carried me until the moment I found I was nine centimeters.

After that— my mind deferred to my body. I really thought I would be relying on hiking and mountain memories and imagining floating on the waves at Assateague Island. But when the time came, I was really focused on what my body was doing and trying to accomplish. I feel like I was somewhat in a trance.

There were some things I was aware of, but never communicated externally. For example, at times I would think, “I’m doing good. This is going by fast.” Those thoughts, however, would stay confined in my mind and were never articulated to others. There were conversations I overheard, but never responded to. I recall our nurse complimenting our wedding rings and asking Ryan about the Vibram Five Fingers he was wearing. It would be hours later with the nurse long gone before I would address her comments. I also never bothered to tell the staff that I go by “Vicky” and not “Victoria”. 

On the other hand, as you’ll read below in “Needs of Laboring Woman – Quiet” and “Needs of Laboring Woman – Physical Comfort”, there were things I was definitely not aware of.

A couple of weeks after birth, I told some friends that I didn’t think labor was the most physically hard thing I’ve done in my life.

“Uh…” Ryan interjected, “I think you think that because you weren’t all there.” : )

Upon consideration, I think that is exactly WHY it wasn’t the most physically hard thing I’ve accomplished. I got my pesky mind out of the process. It wasn’t like a long run where I spend miles battling my brain and second-guessing myself.

Labor – Massage and Stroking
We practiced a lot of massage and stroking techniques in our Bradley classes. During labor, we found I didn’t like to be touched during contractions. Ryan would massage me in between. He quickly learned what it meant when I grabbed his hands and pulled them away.  That was his cue a contraction was coming.

Needs of a Laboring Woman – Quiet
Bradley teaches six needs of a laboring woman– one of which is “Quiet”. When I was in Transition and Second Stage Labor (aka The Pushing Phase), I was really only aware of two voices – Ryan’s and our Labor and Delivery Nurse, Heidi’s.  Other sounds didn’t quite make it into my realm of consciousness. As a result, I didn’t really need the traditional quiet. Twice Ryan told me he was shutting a door because of all the background noise– both times I was unaware of said noise. I was slightly aware of an OB/GYN coming in with medical students, but I wouldn’t know what he said until later when Ryan told me (it was very complimentary! The doctor was telling the students I was the ideal women in labor and what they want to see in a patient!!! I really wish I did get to hear that!).

Needs of a Laboring Woman – Physical Comfort
Bradley teaches that physical comfort is important so that the woman can fully focus on relaxing and letting her body do its work. Part of the practical applications of physical comfort are avoiding continual fetal monitoring and IVs, both of which could affect the laboring mother’s comfort and distract her. Here again, I got off pretty easy. When I was in Transition and Second Stage Labor, I was so focused on what my body was doing, that I was vaguely aware when they were monitoring. Because Sagan had arrived before my Group Beta Strep test, they did have to put an IV in me and do proactive antibiotics. Ryan watched them do it and said it looked painful.  They put the needle in and wiggled it around until it was in position.  I was so into what the other parts of my body were doing, I didn’t flinch or respond. Later, during one of the rare cases where I opened my eyes, I remember being surprised with how extensive the work on my arm was.

Labor – Importance of Positions
I can strongly testify to the importance of trying different positions. So quickly did I learn the connection between position and comfort that when I was situated where labor was manageable, I was reluctant to move for fear of getting in a bad position. Luckily, Ryan still motivated me to get up and urinate. 🙂

I enjoyed the side lie during Transition and my favorite position during Second Stage was the sitting squat. Twice during the pushing phase Sagan’s heart rate concerned our nurse and she moved me into a side lie pushing position. OOh, I did not like that and Ryan could tell I was miserable. I believe my legs shook during those contractions! Ryan could also visually see how the effectiveness of my pushing plummeted in that position. Luckily, Sagan’s heart rate picked up and I was able to get back into the sitting squat I loved. I can’t remember the exact position, but there was one that made me say, “It hurts my back.” Ryan’s calm voice told me to get through the contraction and then we moved into a different position. It was like night and day– one position would be completely manageable… another one amazingly tough.

So the big lesson here for other mothers– don’t succumb or give up or feel you have failed until you try different positions. It really can make all the difference in the world.

We had originally planned to deliver at BirthCare, but it turns out there was a nice perk to the hospital.  I found our badass hospital bed to be a great assistance to the different positions. It was amazing how many different ways they could configure the bed.

Second Stage Labor – “Gotta Go” Feeling
The Bradley books and numerous birth stories I read talked about how when you feel the urge to push, it feels like needing to take a bowel movement. In my case, this sensation was unnerving. I had not yet taken my morning dump that day. I may have lost my modesty about nudity (see above), but I hadn’t lost that much modesty!

The one thing of my labor experience I believe I could improve on was the start of the pushing phase. I was so concerned about taking a dump, I didn’t give my early pushes the adequate vigor. Ryan was RIGHT there. Ryan was watching the WHOLE thing. Did I really want Ryan to be looking when a poop popped out?!? Luckily, I was able to build up some confidence. “Welp, you didn’t take a dump last time, so it must be safe.” Also as Sagan descended down, I was able to really feel and focus my pushes better, knowing I was working in the right orifice. 🙂

P.S. I can report when you do give your pushes the adequate vigor— the experience is much more pleasant.  I found when I held back on the pushing, my body would do it for me.  It was almost like a sling shot inside.  I could feel my stomach snap to push… and from what I understand from Ryan, you could apparently see it too.

Second Stage Labor – Bradley Pushing Technique
Once I did start pushing with confidence, I used the technique we learned in class– chin to chest, legs pulled back and elbows out. Ryan had to remind me to keep my chin down and I got busted a couple of times by the midwife “pushing with my face”. Ryan reported that I looked like an athlete pulling my legs back and pushing!

A medical student was observing our entire birth.  During the pushing phase, I heard our nurse or midwife point out, “This is what medicated mothers can’t do.”  She explained that medicated mothers typically have to push harder because they can’t feel and direct their pushes in the same manner.

Ryan’s Mom had told me when she birthed Ryan naturally she had wished she had worked her arms out more in preparation. I can confirm she is on to something– the next day my biceps did feel like I had done my weekly Hammer Curls at the gym!

Second Stage Labor – Crowning and Birth
At one point during Second Stage Labor, the midwife or nurse pushed her finger in my vagina to see where Sagan was.  I was disappointed to feel their fingers go in deeper than I would have liked.  But it didn’t seem long before Heidi and Ryan reported seeing hair.  I still felt like Sagan was still far off when I was aware of a lot of activity in the room and someone made a call about how they were going to have a delivery in two – three minutes.  This was very encouraging.  I was also encouraged when I heard the midwife ask for baby shampoo and started massaging my perinean.  Soon I was able to reach down and feel Sagan’s head emerging.  Soon after that I was aware of stretching and slight burning, but it wasn’t as bad as the “Ring of Fire” I had imagined (keep in mind Sagan was so little).  I thought I still had a way to go to crown when all of a sudden I heard, “Whoa, whoa, whoa Momma.  Just breathe.  Just breathe”.  Soon after that, I opened my eyes and because of my upright sitting-squat position, I could see Sagan’s head and them using the aspirator to clean his orifices.  I think I must have closed my eyes again, because I don’t remember his body coming out. 

I had a small first degree tear which I can’t say bothered me either at birth or during recovery.

And so our little guy was born.  The umbilical cord was short– so short they couldn’t place him on my chest until after it was cut.  We had wanted to wait until the cord stopped pulsating to cut it, but due to Sagan being late pre-term the staff was anxious to do their assessments.  Ryan cut the cord, splattering our nurse in blood.  They put Sagan briefly on my chest before taking him for their tests and evaluations. I actually didn’t mind them taking him so quickly. I knew he was early and I wanted to know as much as anybody that he was okay.

Labor - Sagan Right After Birth
Sagan (Photo by Ryan Somma)

Third Stage Labor
Third Stage Labor was pretty uneventful.  I was chatting with the nurse when the midwife interrupted me and instructed me to push and just like that the placenta was out.  The placenta was completely in tact, but they did note an oddity– I had a battledore placenta.  Also known as “marginal cord insertion”, that’s where the umbilical cord is attached to the placenta less than 2 centimeters from the edge.

“It’s a good thing you were in a hospital,” the midwife pointed out, “this could have torn.”

ClintJCL had been lobbying for possession of the placenta so he could scratch an item off his bucket list.  Sadly (for him), he did not get his wish.  I let the staff keep it so they could show their students.

Labor - Team Looks at Placenta
Midwife Donna Explains the Battledore Placenta (Photo by Ryan Somma)

Coach Tip – You Can Override Your Partner
When we first arrived at the hospital, Ryan asked if I wanted him to take off my glasses. He said my entire face crunched up into a scowl.

Okay….” Ryan thought, “That’s a ‘no’…. but I really need to get those glasses off.

A few contractions later, he just took him off. When he asked, I didn’t want him to take them because I wanted to be able to see what was going on. BUT– I almost exclusively had my eyes closed during Transition and Second Stage. In that case, Ryan absolutely knew what was best.

No Glasses Necessary (Photo by Ryan Somma)

Coach Tip – Innovate
As we had been taught and seen in numerous videos, Ryan used a cold washcloth on my forehead. I thought that felt great. THEN between contractions, Ryan did something unexpected. He took that cold washcloth and put it on my neck and shoulders.  Holy. Cow.  I would almost describe that sensation as orgasmic. It felt so, so, so very good. And here’s the thing– never ever ever would I had thought to ask for that. Ryan’s innovation and thoughtfulness really paid off.

Coach Tip – Brush Your Teeth : )
Perhaps this can fall under the “Physical Comfort” need of a laboring woman. At first during Transition, I had some trouble focusing on Ryan’s voice.

Between contractions I whispered, “Ryan, don’t talk directly in my face…Your breath.”

Well, Ryan always goes above and beyond the call of duty! Between contractions he went and brushed his teeth. After that– I had no issues focusing on the sound of his voice…instead of smell.

Coach Tip – Camelbak!
Throughout labor, I would request some water from Ryan. Our Nalgene Camelbak bottle we use for hiking was absolutely perfect!!! It made it extremely easy for me to sip water when I wanted it.  I was surprised that I only drank about 8 – 10 ounces of water during labor.  In the weeks preceding birth, I had been downing nearly 32 ounces at my hour long gym visits.  Though, I did not sweat nearly as much during labor as I do at the gym.

Coach Tip – Orange Juice
Dr. Bradley recommends orange juice after labor to get the mother’s blood sugar up and replenish her fluids. I was pretty indifferent to the orange juice, even though I absolutely love celebrating a hot hike with a nice juicy orange. When we left for the hospital, Ryan brought a frozen container of orange juice. By the time Sagan was born, that orange juice was thawed and ready to drink. Whoa boy, that stuff was good. I chugged and chugged and chugged and chugged. It couldn’t have been more refreshing than if it was Trail Magic.

Coach Tip – Food, Food, Food
Ryan and I packed a lot of snacks for the hospital. Most of the foods were hike-inspired fares. Stuff I knew I would eat on a hard hike. I did eat about 75% of the granola bar on the way to the hospital. Once we arrived, I was so far along I didn’t have an appetite. Does that mean we shouldn’t have packed so much food??? NOPE! The twenty four hours after delivery I was FAMISHED. There was no way I could have relied on just the three spread out hospital meals. I was so glad to have so much food and to be able to feast on demand.

Our birth had a lot of surprises. We were faced with it much earlier than expected. We were with strangers in a hospital we had never set foot in. But the biggest surprise was how pleasant our birth experience was. It truly was an invigorating and beautiful event.

And here’s the thing– I’m just a normal person! Although I kept active throughout pregnancy, I am far from a super athlete. I once got beat in a 5K by a 79 year old man by over a minute! I’m thrilled whenever I run a mile in less than 12 minutes. I hike, but I’m almost always the last one up the ascents. I also had very little experience with pain. I’ve never had stitches, I’ve never broken a bone and I’ve often found menstrual cramps to be cause for Tylenol. To top it all off, I’m neurotic– I’m thirty-six years old and still scared of vomiting.

But, what I did have (thanks to the books, the classes, some supplemental pep talks from Ryan’s mom) was the knowledge that my body was designed to birth my son.  And I knew from my hiking experience, that this body of mine can carry me further than I expect.

Dr. Bradley believed that most women are capable of natural childbirth. I think I help support his case. : )

October 3, 2011 at 1:01 am 11 comments

Our Birth Appendix – Third Trimester Exercise

I tried to stay active throughout my pregnancy, including the third trimester.  Part of my motivation came from the book “What’s Going On In There?”:

The best-documented benefit of exercise comes in labor and delivery. Women who exercise regularly fare much better during childbirth compared with women who do not. They perceive it to be less painful, and indeed it may be; one study found that women who exercise spend just twenty-seven minutes in the second stage of labor—pushing—compared with fifty-nine minutes for women who did not exercise during pregnancy. Shorter labor is generally beneficial to the baby, since it reduces the risk of complications. including oxygen deprivation of the brain.

“What’s Going On In There? How the Brain and Mind Develop the First Five Years”
Read  a longer excerpt on Memexplex.

Although my pushing phase was roughly two hours, I feel staying active was time well spent.  I had an easy pregnancy and a very manageable labor.  But more importantly, exercise does wonders at keeping anxiety at bay.  When you are exercising with a belly, you feel very empowered.  You feel like you can do anything— including that looming labor and delivery.  🙂

To Week 28
Wednesday – Swimming (31.5 laps)
Thursday – 1 hour Elliptical
Friday – 1 hour Bike
Saturday – 8 Mile Hike at Bull Run Occoquan Trail
Sunday – Weight Lifting, Yard Work at Grandma’s House

To Week 29
Tuesday – Swimming (32.5 laps)
Wednesday – 1 hour elliptical
Thursday – Hour Walk with Dogs Along Lake James
Friday – Walk with Ryan and Dogs Along Lake James
Saturday – Lake Brandon Swimming for over an hour, Weight Lifting at Gym for an hour

To Week 30
Monday – Kayaking 3 hours
Wednesday – Elliptical 40 minutes
Thursday – Walking (To and From Car at Grandma’s House)
Friday – Walking (Route Across Bridge)
Saturday – Swimming 50 Laps, Walking (To and From Car at Grandma’s House)
Sunday – Walking (Craft Fair and To and From Car)

To Week 31
Monday – Elliptical 1 hour
Tuesday – Bicycle 1 hour
Wednesday – Bicycle 1 hour
Friday – Swimming – 1 hour 10 minute (34.5 laps)
Saturday – Walking (To and From Car at Grandma’s House), Grandma House Work
Sunday – Weight Lifting, Grandma House Work

To Week 32
Monday – Walking (Grandma’s House, Bridge)
Thursday – Elliptical – 1 hour
Friday – Bicycle – 1 hour
Saturday – Swimming (40.5 laps)
Sunday – Weight Lifting

To Week 33
Monday – Walking (Grandma’s House, Bridge)
Thursday – Walking (Tennis Courts to Larry’s one way)
Friday – Walking (Larry’s to Rachel’s and Back)
Saturday – Swimming – Sharks and Minnows with Kids
Sunday – 7.5 Mile 1200 Ascent Hike to McAfee’s Knob

To Week 34
Monday – Walking (Grandma’s House and Back)
Tuesday – Bike 1 hour. Level 17 2 miles, Level 15 2 miles.
Wednesday – 30 Minutes Bike and 30 Minutes Elliptical
Friday – One Hour on Elliptical
Saturday – 46 minute walk with the dogs (Across Bridge Loop plus Edgehill)
Sunday – 1 hour swimming (32.5 laps)

To Week 35
Monday – 50 Minutes Weight Lifting, Walking From Grandma’s (0.5 miles), Walking To and From Fireworks (~1 mile)
Wednesday – Walking to Post Office and then Car (~0.5miles)
Thursday – Bike 50 minutes
Friday – Walking Mount High Street with Dogs (29 minutes)
Saturday – 50 laps at pool, walking to Farmer’s Market and Back
Sunday – 4.3 mile hike in 90 degree heat, Walk Back from Grandma’s House after Parking Car

To Week 36
Tuesday – GAVE BIRTH

I am pleased with my activity level, but if you are looking for a role model who was substantially more active than I, check out One Fit Mom: Pregnancy, Cross Fit and the Paleo Diet.  She was one week ahead of me in her pregnancy and WAY more bad-ass.

October 3, 2011 at 1:00 am 1 comment

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