All posts by meganmassaro

Is the Erica May Rengo Case a Hoax?

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Baby Levi, Erica’s oldest son

About three years ago, there was a news story that caught the social media world by storm. “Habiba” was a homeless nursing mother whose baby was taken away from her. You can read more about that heart-breaking case here. I was quite surprised to find that the google search term “Is Habiba a Hoax” sent thousands of web surfers to our blog. I ended the post with these sentiments:

For the sake of argument, if this is a hoax, it’s one I’d be proud to be duped by: protecting the rights of mothers and babies everywhere.

So now, here we are again with the story of Erica May Rengo, a home-birthing, breastfeeding mama of three in Washington. Erica had her children taken away from her by Child Protection Services. There’s not much news coverage of the case yet, aside from this article on Medical Kidnap. At the end of the article, readers are encouraged to call or email the mayor, which I did. The office said they had received hundreds of calls and were going to be in touch with CPS regarding the case. (Erica and Cleave go to trial on Dec 2nd)

Some people are questioning the validity of the information in the article, the omission of facts, and the entire story in general. As I said in Habiba–it’s true: we don’t have all the facts! Of course we don’t. Do we ever? But I think that’s missing the point in this instance. I always want to do the best with what I have. And what I have is a story that tugs at my heart.

However, it’s not up to me to have the facts. I’m not a trained CPS professional. I’m not a judge hearing the case, or a lawyer presenting it. This isn’t a charity that I’m sending money to, or an organization I’m devoting time to. BUT what I can do, I want to. Like, calling a governor’s office to ask him to please investigate, (immediately!) and if the facts remain as presented in the article, to reunite the Rengo family as soon as humanly possible? Maybe there are additional details that will come out, and there are other avenues that would be better for this family before reunification. I don’t know. But I want her to have a fair investigation. Erica has twin babies and a toddler that need their mama. (The goal of CPS is to keep families intact as often as possible, BTW. So unless there are some egregious facts omitted from the article, CPS failed.)

This is a story that hits close to home. As a nursing, home-birthing mother, I relate to Erica. I feel for Erica. I hurt for Erica. And quite honestly, I find it hard to even think about how her children are doing. I imagine how mine would be without me, and it’s painful to consider. Yet, seeing the outpouring of support for this family inspires me, and shows our mama-solidarity in the face of injustice. If this story is true, imagine the difference a ten second phone call, a quick email, or even a Facebook post can make in a family’s life. And if it isn’t, I will never regret time spent helping others in good faith.

**Updated to add (11/27): For the record, I don’t believe this is a hoax. Ask my mother. I called her to talk about it – and she called the governor too. Ask my husband, every 15 minutes last night I asked him, “Could you imagine if…”, “That could have been us…”. Ask my 4.5 year old, who came in and out of the dining room as I wrote the post, watching Mommy “help another mommy.”

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Megan McGrory Massaro is a mother, freelance writer, and author. She wrote The Other Baby Book: A Natural Approach to Baby’s First Year  to empower women to make the best choices for their families.

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5 Favorite Tools for Going Diaper Free

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We practice Elimination Communication. While the goal is “early potty training,” my younger daughter is turning nine months now, and I’m itching to go entirely diaper free with her. When you remove diapers from the equation, you rely more on cues and intuition, putting yourself more in tune with baby and YOU! Plus, I’m all set with the weekly diaper load down two flights of stairs, and the exploding diaper bin in her room. She is also a huge wiggler and does not like getting a diaper on lying down. We’re in undies/bare bum part time now, but in the next month or two, I’ll pack up all but about 6 cloth diapers, and use them as rags for any misses. I have been thinking about what I’ll need to take the diaper-free plunge, given my experience with her sister. Here are 5 important things for a diaper-free journey!

1. Toddler training undies. We’ve used undies part time at eight months with both my daughters. I didn’t want to go bare bottomed with my first as it was cold. And because I knew some misses were inevitable, and I didn’t want to wash more pairs of pants than I had to. But try to find undies for petite bums! It took me weeks of researching and trialing, but I settled on these because they were both affordable and absorbent. They worked well for my average sized 9 month old. I’ve had friends who swear by these ones by Blueberry.

2. A throne and a corner. You may already have one of these if you’re practicing EC, but I found that having a designated potty space, where my girls would read books or play with toys, was key to consistency and making pottying an enjoyable experience. I bought an antique wooden potty at a yard sale for $10. It’s literally one of my favorite baby purchases ever. I feel like half of my older daughter’s waking hours were spent on that potty! I’d post a picture, but she’s half naked in all them. We got something like this. 

3. Vinegar and water. You probably already have both these things in your home, but when you ditch the diapers, there will be misses and messes. Yes, WILL. So, have a spray bottle of 50:50 handy, and wipe down the floor, carpet, or high chair. The first time I tried this, I was skeptical, but after the vinegar spray dissipates, there’s no trace of urine!

4. Towels or wool blankets. If you are going cold turkey and moving out of diapers at night too, these may come in handy. Some moms put them over the sheets and then just throw the wet towels on the floor in the middle of the night (assuming co-sleeping) if their little one pees. I found them really annoying while l was trying to sleep, and since the night time misses were only about once a week, I just had an extra folded towel near my pillow, and then used a few under the sheet as an extra mattress protection. I would throw a clean towel over a miss and deal with it in the morning. We prioritize sleep here!

5. Patience (and a sense of humor!). It may take a little getting used to for both you and your baby! But once you take the plunge and put away the diapers for good, it will likely take your EC relationship to a whole new level. I found that when we were relying on diapers for back-up, I would get lazy, and just let my daughters go in their diaper. But once that wasn’t an option, we developed a potty rhythm and misses were far less frequent than with the diapers! It took a few weeks though, so don’t give up! You will have good days, and not-as-good days. I found that the whole process was far more enjoyable when I took it all in stride and armed myself with the vinegar and some diaper rags!

Good luck! Are you considering taking the plunge to go diaper-free? What’s holding you back?

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Megan McGrory Massaro is a mother, freelance writer, and author. She wrote The Other Baby Book: A Natural Approach to Baby’s First Year  to empower women to make the best choices for their families.

5 Ways to Bond With Your Baby When Baby-wearing Isn’t an Option

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I’m a huge baby-wearing fan. My first daughter literally fell asleep in the carrier, and only in the carrier, for the first 21 months of her life. She lived in a brown Boba for almost two years. She did weddings, funerals, holidays, shopping, walking, cooking with me. I couldn’t imagine doing it any other way. I loved wearing her, and assumed the rest of my babies would have that same luxury of living their first few years so close to mama.

Shortly after my second daughter was born though, I realized it wasn’t going to be such smooth sailing. I had incredibly painful varicose veins for much of my second pregnancy, and though they went away after birth, once my baby passed the ten pound mark, I could feel them flaring slightly. As her weight increased, my leg felt worse, and around six months postpartum, I developed pelvic pain and hemorrhoids that made it challenging to hold her, never mind wear her.

I felt guilty, sad, and at a loss. It seemed like one of my best mothering tools had been taken from me. Luckily, my daughter was an early crawler, and a very content baby so I managed to make dinners and do other tasks around the house while she played, instead of carrying her. But still, I wanted to be close to her. I’ve had to be more intentional but I’ve worked through the feelings of loss and instead try to focus on the ways we CAN bond! Here are my top five ways of staying connected to my daughter while trying to preserve my body.

1. Co-sleeping. My little one sleeps in the crook of my arm part of the night, sometimes on my chest, and sometimes, when I’m tired, on the other side of the bed. But we are always close, and I wouldn’t trade our nighttime snuggles for anything – not even an uninterrupted night’s sleep! We also spend about a half hour snuggling in the morning with her older sister in the bed, so everyone feels like they have their physical needs for love and affection met before our feet hit the ground! (If you’re concerned about safety, check out some of Dr. James McKenna’s research on safe co-sleeping, and his safety guidelines.) 

2. Co-bathing. Yup, it’s as easy as it sounds. Jump into the bath with your baby. If they are going through that distracted nursing stage, it’s a great way to gently encourage a good feed. It’s relaxing for you too!

3. Floor time! I am so much more intentional about tumbling on the floor with my second baby. She does “airplane” on my legs while I lie on my back, and crawls over, under, and around me. I barely ever sit on a couch, and when I do crafts or read with my older daughter, we always sit on the floor instead of at the table, so the baby can participate at all times. We also do lots of hugs and kisses on the floor.

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4. Use your stroller wisely. I didn’t use a stroller at all until my eldest turned 2. And even then I used it sparingly. I just felt like they inhibited our freedom to walk off the path, to get through doors, down stairs etc. I still feel that way, but there’s no way we could do museums or park trips without one now that I can’t hold my baby for more than a few minutes at a time. I try to push her to a destination, and then take her right out, and play on the floor for a bit before we need to move again.

I considered buying a stroller with a seat that faced toward me, but I knew my girl wouldn’t be in a stroller for that much longer–as soon as my kiddos can walk, they do–it just takes a bit longer to get places! If circumstances were different though, I may have bought something like this as a long term investment so I could interact and so that my girl could feel safe. (When babies face the world in their stroller, it can be stressful.)  As it is, I like to have my older daughter push the stroller when we walk around town, and I sometimes walk next to or in front of the stroller, making faces, and being silly with the baby.

5. Relax. We are an on-the-go family. We live close to downtown Boston, and my older daughter and I used to go into town weekly. We loved riding the train, exploring the parks in the city, and going to museums. It’s been really hard for me to slow down in that respect, and plan our day around home naps (rather than carrier naps, as in the past), but it’s been a sweet time for my older daughter and I to have time cooking, drawing, reading, or just resting. It’s a season! Before I know it, my baby will be walking, and it will be hard to catch her, never mind pick her up!

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A few other strategies made life a bit easier too. Accept help! Dad puts baby to bed when he’s home, Nana carries her down the stairs if we are going out together, Big Sister watches her when I run to the laundry. At church, instead of carrying the baby up the stairs to Sunday School while I drop off her sister, I leave the baby downstairs with a loving friend. (One of her favorites happens to be a male friend who is at least 6’4″ with glasses and a booming voice. He’s also a trained NICU nurse.)

I’m also much more organized. All the diapering supplies are in one place. The things we need to get out the door are all by the door. I can’t afford to be running around the house looking for things with her in my arms. I also do use the Ergo back carry in a pinch!

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Megan McGrory Massaro is a mother, freelance writer, and author. She wrote The Other Baby Book: A Natural Approach to Baby’s First Year  to empower women to make the best choices for their families.

How and Why to Practice Elimination Communication

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Yesterday we looked at the history of diapering/pottying in the US. Today, let’s see why we may want to take a different road…

Given our recent past, it’s easy to see why anything but a diapered baby is met with skepticism and even condemnation for parents “pushing” their children too quickly. But, as with co-sleeping, experts have failed to clarify the real issue. How you respond to your baby’s elimination needs is entirely different than when.

We don’t advocate turn-of-the-century tactics. In fact, we cringe when people comment that our little ones are “potty trained.” We aim to understand their needs, and lay the foundation for a relationship of mutual respect. We’re communicating with our babies, not training them. The difference may seem subtle (and possibly even irrelevant) before you start.

Let’s draw a firmer boundary between traditional toilet training and potty-based communication. First and foremost, with EC there’s no negativity around elimination. If your child arches his back when you put him on the potty, you’re free to let him go—even if he pees in the corner, or in his diaper a moment later. Sometimes that’s frustrating for mom, but it’s counterproductive to obsess about the miss, shame the child or use any form of punishment.

EC philosophy inherently rejects all timelines as well. Babies are individuals, so assuming they should be at a given stage is detrimental to all involved. EC is about responding to your baby’s needs—so have fun and relax. Otherwise, it’s not worth doing!

In many societies throughout the globe, babies are pottied in response to their cues. In China, for example, cotton, water, and soap are all scarce items. Mothers make a whistling sound to cue their babies, and little ones dressed in split-crotch pants easily eliminate in response. By the time children can walk, around 12-14 months, they know to squat and eliminate on their own.

In many places throughout the globe, including India, Africa, Russia, and South America, locals use a similar method. In warmer climates, babies are carried naked in slings. Mothers respond to babies’ cues and signals by taking the baby out of the sling, and little ones are free to eliminate without soiling themselves or their mamas.

So…What Now?

You want to start communicating with your little one about elimination, but you have no idea where to start. We didn’t, either. Here are four tools to launch your EC relationship.

Get going. You can potty your baby from birth, or as early as you feel comfortable. Miriam got started soon after birth; Megan waited three months until they had settled into more of a routine. It’s most important that pottying is enjoyable for everyone. If you’re overly stressed by the idea, it’s probably not the right time.

Read cues. It may seem hard to believe, but during his first few months, your little one probably communicates before he goes, whether you respond or not! Common signals include sudden fussing, squirming, grunting or crying out, becoming still, waking from sleep, or a specific facial expression.

Once your baby’s old enough to notice visual cues, you may want to incorporate the sign for potty. Around six months—or earlier, if you’d like—you can show your baby the toilet sign every time you say potty. In American Sign Language, it looks like a closed fist, shaken from side to side, with your thumb peeking out between the index and middle finger.

Once a baby begins signing, it’s pretty amazing to have him deliberately tell you that he needs to go. For some, this happens as early as nine months, but all babies develop and communicate at different rates and in different ways.

Give cues. Around the world, mothers give their babies cues, like “ssshhh” or “psssss.” In the early days of your EC journey, the cue is given when mom notices her baby going. Eventually, her baby associates the cue with relaxing his bladder and releases when he hears the sound.

Get support. In today’s wired world, if none of your neighbors practice EC, you can still get all the help and encouragement you need online. Check out The Other Baby Book’s Facebook page or Diaperfreebaby.org for more support!

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This post was excerpted from The Other Baby Book: A Natural Approach to Baby’s First Year. Check out our book to learn more about other baby-friendly practices, like natural birthing, on-cue nursing, baby-led weaning, co-sleeping, and baby-wearing! And the e-version is FREE from October 9-12!!

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Megan McGrory Massaro is a mother, freelance writer, and author. She wrote The Other Baby Book: A Natural Approach to Baby’s First Year  to empower women to make the best choices for their families.

9 Best Baby-Led Weaning First Foods

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One of my favorite practices during our first daughter’s first year was Baby-led Weaning, the practice of giving her autonomy over feeding herself solids. This means we didn’t go the rice cereal route (empty, yucky calories, and a time-consuming mess? no thanks!), but went straight to real, nutrient dense food. After filling her up on milk, we offer whatever food it is we’re eating (within reason – spicy chicken wings doesn’t make the cut) and let her explore, eat, or reject the offerings. Compared to many of our friends, who start their babies on food before six month, we started a bit later (7.5 months), waiting until our daughter hit the 6 month milestone when her gut was fully sealed, could sit up unsupported, and showed an interest.

I’m not a nutritionist, nor do I play one on tv, but I can tell you what we’ve found to be the most nutrient dense, easy to eat, and well-liked items in our home for those first few months of “playing” with food.

1. Egg yolk. This is a messy one, but SO loved. It was both girls’ first food. Sometimes we scramble a few yolks separately, or hard boil an egg and just pop out the circular yolk.

2. Avocado. If you leave a little piece of the (washed) skin on and cut it into a wedge, it’s a bit easier to eat.

3. Root vegetable fries. My girls have enjoyed beets, sweet potato, red potato, carrot, turnip – roasted and with a little butter or olive oil. In the other half of the pan, I’ll add seasonings to the portion for the rest of the family.

4. Fried apples. Cut into wedges for easy gripping, apple slices sautéed in butter or coconut oil are super yummy. It’s like apple sauce that babies can pick up.

5. Melons. My second daughter started food in the summer, and adored cantaloupe, watermelon and honey dew melon, cut into finger sized chunks.

6. Beef Sticks. We buy grass-fed beef sticks from US Wellness Meats and I live off them when I’m pregnant and nursing. Both girls really like them too! They suck on them and as they get a little older, are able to get some of the meat out.

7. Oranges. I didn’t like oranges until my second pregnancy, so we never kept them around the house. But after my second daughter was born, we always had a stash, and turns out she loves them! She sucks all the juice and leaves me an empty orange “shell”.

8. Hard cheese – Do you know that in Italy, a common first food for babies is parmesan cheese mixed with olive oil? I haven’t gone that far, but my girls enjoy sucking on a good quality cheddar or hunk of parmesan.

9. Whatever else we’re eating. I’ll take out pieces of vegetables from a stew, cucumbers from our salad, or banana from the oatmeal.

Mamas, baby-led weaning should be a fun, stress-free experience! Remember, breast-fed babies do not need anything aside from milk during their first year, so food should be a time for exploration, play, and first tastes! If you’d like more structure to your baby-led weaning experience, you may enjoy the cookbook, (review here) or the book, “Baby-led Weaning: The Essential Guide to Introducing Solid Foods – and Helping Your Baby to Grow Up a Happy and Confident Eater.” If I had to choose just one, I’d go with the cookbook! It’s all the info from the book, condensed, with recipes!

Want to learn more about other baby-friendly practices, like elimination communication (ditch the diapers!), nursing, co-sleeping, and baby-wearing? Check out our book, The Other Baby Book: A Natural Approach to Baby’s First Year.

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Megan McGrory Massaro is a mother, freelance writer, and author. She wrote The Other Baby Book: A Natural Approach to Baby’s First Year  to empower women to make the best choices for their families.

A Journey to Home Birth

When I was pregnant with my first in 2009, I had this idea that women who have their babies at home had some exceptional birthing abilities (or just couldn’t get in the car fast enough). Maybe they had really large pelvises, or were skilled in hypno-birthing, or were just uberconfident. I didn’t fit into any of those categories, and thought perhaps the hospital was the best place for your average Betty Birther like me, who felt pain, had no patience for imagining I was on a beach, and yelled a lot during my first birth. I felt like I had no place having my baby at home–and I wasn’t even really sure I wanted to. My birthing mojo had been stolen, and I had to find a way to get it back…

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Serafina’s homebirth, 2/2014

You could say I was a reluctant home birther. I always assumed women who have their babies at home just know that they know that they know. I didn’t. My first birth was in a hospital, and though there was plenty I could grumble about (you want to take my baby for a hearing test at 3am, really?!), I felt comfortable with the decision after considering both a birth center and briefly, a home birth. The idea of a home birth appealed to me on a visceral level – it felt like the most natural thing to do. Yet, I knew plenty of moms, and they all delivered their babies in hospitals, so how could bad could institutionalized birth be?! Plus, my husband and mother, the two most important people in my life, didn’t support it. At all. It was the “What-if-something-goes-wrong” argument. No amount of Ricki Lake could convince either of them otherwise, and it didn’t seem worth the effort. (I won’t spend time here talking about the safety of home birth, but feel free to check out some studies yourself!)

And really, my hospital birth wasn’t all that bad. It was pretty ordinary, and maybe a little boring for the doctor waiting in the wings, in case the midwife needed support. I didn’t get an epidural, wasn’t induced, wasn’t monitored very frequently. One of the nurses even said in a quiet tone, “We love these kinds of births. We hardly ever get to see them and they seem so real!” (Yes, as I am screaming, I mentally note that there is nothing fake about the intensity of a contraction.) After my baby was born, I requested they not cut the cord, not administer eye drops, or a Vitamin K shot, or bathe the baby, or vaccinate…needless to say, my “birth plan” was pored over by everyone who came in the room, just to make sure they got it all right.

I’ll admit – it was tiring to continually say, “Yes, you read that right. No, no Hep B. No, please don’t wash off the vernix.” And although at firstI chuckled, I got tired of seeing the biohazard symbol on my baby’s little plastic box, just because I refused her bath. (The plastic box is a whole different issue.)

Fast forward 3 years, and despite an enormous amount of research, interviews, and meeting homebirthing moms through writing The Other Baby Book, I still wasn’t sure I wanted to go the home birth route during my second pregnancy. I truly supported and encouraged homebirth as an option for pregnant moms, but still had some hard-to-articulate concerns about the pain (was I prepared to handle another birth like my first again??). I knew at that point a home birth was likely going to be a much better overall experience than a hospital birth, but I also knew my husband’s stance, and didn’t look forward to the push back I thought I’d get from the rest of our family. So, I decided to find a new midwife (mine had moved on from the practice), go back to the hospital, and suck up the emotional drain of explaining myself to each new nurse on shift.

But my first appointment with a hospital midwife was disappointing enough to be my last. After waiting an hour (HOUR!), only to talk about testing, and percentiles, and risks for 30 minutes, I had a sour taste in my mouth. The midwife I met with was supposed to be one of the most sympathetic to natural birth, and yet I didn’t get that impression at all. It felt much more like pregnancy was one big “What if?” The last thing I wanted was for someone else to be casting doubts about the next nine months, and about birth in general. I wanted a birth provider who was knowledgable enough to provide excellent care, who shared the same birth philosophy with me – that birth is a natural, normal occurrence. I felt really discouraged after my appointment, and my thoughts kept drifting back to a home birth. I called a friend who recently had her baby at home, and she came right over to talk me through some of my concerns. I’ll never forget her words.

There are risks no matter where you birth. Do you trust God with the outcome of your birth, no matter where it is and what happens?” I nodded, though I pondered those words for the days and months to come. “Then have your baby where you have the most peace, and don’t listen to anyone who tries to convince you otherwise. Even me.” It’s amazing how friends can speak the words we most need to hear, but don’t have courage enough to speak to ourselves.

The more I thought about birthing at home, the more excited I became. I had moved on from just not wanting to be in a hospital, to embracing the idea of being at home. So, I cautiously brought up the idea of a home birth to my husband, and he agreed to meet a few midwives. It helped that by this time, Miriam and another dear friend had both had positive home birth experiences.

We started by meeting a very experienced midwife, who I knew had an answer for every question under the sun. Mark was impressed. I liked her, but wasn’t sure it was the best fit…especially for over $5,000! From there, I dug through a local list serv and got recommendations for other midwives. I called a few, but when I met Sarafina, I knew she’d be the one. She has a presence about her–calming, empowering, and someone I’d be OK with seeing me naked. Seriously. That’s a factor. In other words, I felt totally at ease around her. Sarafina’s partner, Jessica, has this quiet strength, and bonus: they have an amazing student midwife, Kara, who never stopped smiling, and always complemented whatever I was cooking when she came over (way to my heart – love my food)!

The entire experience went beyond my expectations. What stands out though, is the quality of prenatal and postpartum care. I looked forward to every appointment–and not just to hear the baby’s heartbeat, but to have a conversation about what was going on in all aspects of my life. It felt like a very holistic model of care, rather than a fractionated, numbers driven model. They always presented my options, but never once did I feel like there was any agenda. I could chose what testing I wanted, or how to approach certain issues. I didn’t feel pressured, coerced, or belittled for my choices. I felt informed, and encouraged to make my own best decision. Barring some of my physical discomforts, I was at peace with my pregnancy in a way that I wasn’t for my first.

It’s the little things that make a difference too – Sarafina and Jessica came to my house for the third trimester (rather than me driving to their office), and I can’t tell you how fantastic that was. I didn’t have to disturb Anabella, or rush around in traffic, in snow, to make an appointment on time. I could be in my pajamas, or eating breakfast. There are five (!) postpartum visits to boot. I was so surprised to learn that. Sarafina gave me a great hip massage on day 3, Jessica did some breastfeeding troubleshooting, laundry lugging and folding, and general encouragement on day 7, and all along the way, they were available for any questions I’ve had. I’m going to miss our times together. I may just have to have another baby…

What about you? Where did you birth? What was the decision-making process like?

You can read more about my actual birth here, and if you’re in the MA/Boston area, you can find BirthMatters, Jessica and Sarafina’s practice, here. 

Megan McGrory Massaro is a mother, freelance writer, and author. She wrote The Other Baby Book: A Natural Approach to Baby’s First Year  to empower women to make the best choices for their families.

Serafina’s Home Birth Story

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8 hours into labor, about two hours before delivery

A few weeks before Serafina’s birth, some dear friends came over to pray for us. One of the ladies prayed that I would have a “glorious” birth, and the word really stuck with me. What would that even look like? I’m not one to gush over how beautiful birth is. It’s amazing, for sure, but it’s also hard, and messy, and not something I romanticize over! Still, glorious, is a word I wanted to describe my birth. And looking back, I’d say it does! God showed up and answered so many of the prayers prayed that night, and in the nights to follow, as I dealt with fears, and pains, and hopes….

I didn’t quite realize it in the weeks leading up to birth, but I clearly had this idea of what my home birth would look like–probably from watching too many YouTube videos (“Please, can we watch another “coming out” video, Mama,” said my 3 year old). I was going to labor peacefully for at least a few hours in the birth tub, with candles in the background, and my birth playlist in my earbuds. I’d diffuse certain essential oils, depending on how things were going. I was going to relax this time. My breathing would be better. I’d know when transition was coming, and I’d spend a decent amount of time slowly pushing, unlike my first birth, where AnaBella was out in less than ten minutes.  The placenta would come out easily. My baby and I would hang out in the water for a bit before we moved into the bed. I wouldn’t need stitches.

I only realized those were my expectations when some of those things happened, and some, not so much…

Contractions started around 10am and were pretty intermittent for a few hours. I spent the morning doing crafts with AnaBella (most notably, lying on my back while AnaBella traced my life-sized  silhouette on the hardwood floor…not so f  un during a contraction), and then had a friend over in the afternoon. The whole time, I was charting my contractions through a free app on my phone. I was a bit in denial, as I had a few bouts of false labor in the prior weeks. The contractions were getting closer together though, so after about 4 hours, I texted my midwife, Sarafina. I could still talk through them, and was cheerfully hanging out with our friends.

At 6:30, after about 8 hours of pretty easy contractions, something changed a bit in the intensity. I texted Sarafina again and she asked if I needed them to come over. I still didn’t think so – I figured I had a lot longer to go if I wasn’t in too much pain. She said she’d be over within the hour. By the time Sarafina and Jessica arrived, I was kneeling during each contraction, as I couldn’t stand under the pain. Still, they were fairly short, and about 5 minutes apart. Mark and I were chatting, setting up the tub, preparing my labor drink and hanging out with AnaBella during this time.

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By 7:30, the pain was pretty intense. AnaBella rubbed my back and sang me songs during contractions, while Mark and the midwives tried to get the tub filled. Unfortunately, our hot water tank ran out of hot water, so there was a bucket brigade, trying to get the water level and temperature up. I didn’t feel an urgent need to get in the tub; I was hoping AnaBella would be settled in bed before I jumped in. She finally went to bed at 8:30, and the tub still wasn’t ready. At that point, I said to Kara, the student midwife, that I didn’t think I was dilated at all. She told me how to do a self-check on the toilet, and I reported back to Sarafina that I thought I was totally closed. I figured we all had a long night ahead of us…

During the next contraction after my self-check, I laid on the bed to get a bit of relief from the pain. As I was on the bed, I felt like my body was spontaneously pushing. Sarafina ran into the other room and told everyone to come in, “The baby’s coming!” HUH?! I just went through transition?? My waters hadn’t broken, and I hadn’t had any bloody show. I couldn’t believe it. Plus, it was nothing close to as brutal as my first labor. I remember walking around like a zombie for hours, feeling like I just couldn’t deal with the pain.

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Mark dumped two large lobster pots of boiling water into the tub, and I jumped in. After 11 excrutiating minutes, I was holding my baby. I will admit, while “Jesus, help me!” was the main focus of my attention during that time, the thought crossed my mind briefly that I should just get an epidural if I have another baby. The pain was so severe. Thankfully, it was so short as well. Serafina came out with her hand up by her face, which is why it took a few extra pushes (and likely why I tore a bit). I held her on my chest for awhile in the tub and caught my breath. It took awhile to birth the placenta, which was no fun. Sarafina gave me some Placenta Out while I was in the tub but nothing was happening, so I ended up out of the tub, and had to push out the placenta on my bed awhile later.

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I got to snuggle with my little lady, and AnaBella woke up shortly after. She came in (and stayed up til 3am!!) and got to meet her sister, and touch a real placenta–with gloves on, of course–before Kara prepared me a delicious placenta smoothie, and prepared the rest for encapsulation. AnaBella has been making playdough placentas ever since she read the book Welcome with Love!

Despite not having those hours of peaceful tub labor, (which, really, who needs a longer labor?!) I am thrilled with the way things went. My midwives were awesome. They were encouraging, but not intruding. They supported me, but didn’t stifle me. They also cleaned up beautifully!  The environment was calm and cozy, and…normal. Everyday. Familiar. And yet–Glorious. Although I am glad I was able to have both hospital and home birth experiences, being home blows the hospital out of the water. No one woke me up to try to take my baby to be weighed, take my blood pressure, or scold me for sleeping with my newborn. I didn’t have to get in a car, eat hospital food, or be ridiculed by the pediatrician on rounds for not doing a Vitamin K injection. It truly was a perfect fit for me, and even my husband, who was a bit skeptical, said he would certainly have another home birth if we had more children.

Megan McGrory Massaro is a mother, freelance writer, and author. She wrote The Other Baby Book: A Natural Approach to Baby’s First Year  to empower women to make the best choices for their families.

Surviving the Stomach Bug During Pregnancy

NOTE: This post is about the stomach bug. I use words like vomit and diarrhea frequently. You’ve been warned!

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Well here’s a post I hadn’t intended to write at 39 weeks and 5 days pregnant! Just six days before my estimated due date, I woke up in the middle of the night, and I thought I was getting ready to go into labor. My body was cleaning itself out. I woke up my  husband to give him a heads up…but about an hour later I realized this was not labor. It was viral gastroenteritis–aka, the stomach bug.

I made preparations for illness prevention this winter by praying for health each day, drinking elderberry syrup each morning, washing my hands almost excessively, eating a clean diet, and diffusing thieves oil throughout my home. But despite my best efforts, I couldn’t predict that a small child in my daughter’s gymnastics class would get sick within a few feet of me. (Thankfully, the little girl was late to class, so she was next to the bleachers where the moms sat, and not on the mat with our girls!) I’m nearly certain that’s where it came from, and it was a good reminder to me that you can’t control life!

Because we had so many friends who were sick, weeks earlier I had talked to my midwives and done research on what happens when a mother has a virus during labor. The vast majority of cases said that our bodies suppress labor until mom is better, and that when in labor, our symptoms often disappear as our bodies put all our energy into birthing the baby. I came across so many interesting stories of women who had respiratory illnesses, broken ankles or bloodied knees, and didn’t even know it while they were in labor. Just hearing this helped me to stay calm. I had a deep sense the baby would not be coming at least until the worst was over.

While this may seem obvious, please do contact your care provider if you get sick. While it’s generally a fast illness, it’s important that they are up to speed on what’s going on, to keep an eye on any issues that may arise.

After about 18 hours I felt better, and 30 hours into the virus, I was out of bed and free of aches and pains. By 48 hours, I had eaten egg pancakes, mashed potatoes, chicken soup and bacon! While I’m certainly not a doctor, I’d like to offer you some strategies I used to feel better fast.

Drinks

I didn’t drink anything for an hour or two after the vomiting stopped. By that time, I was pretty parched, and knew water was not a good solution (despite common practice). If you’ve had several bouts of vomiting, you’ll have lost a good supply of electrolytes, so a rehydration drink is best. You can add some sugar or honey and sea salt to regular water to make a simple drink, but that didn’t really sound appealing to me. I just happen to have lots of coconut water around the house, and it’s been amazing. At first I drank it straight, and then I added a little sea salt, honey, and fresh lemon to it. It tastes delicious, and has really replenished me. I’d caution against commercial electrolyte drinks and flat soda, as they almost always have yucky additives that you don’t want in your body when you’re trying to heal!

I also sipped peppermint, chamomile and ginger tea. The peppermint helps to reduce your fever and soothe your belly, and the chamomile is an anti-spasmodic, helping to reduce stomach cramps. I also had pretty bad nausea on and off for the 12 hours after I got sick, so ginger was a must-have to keep that at bay. Once I moved into the diarrhea phase, I switched to an elder flower and red raspberry leaf tea, both of which are helpful for regulating digestion and improving diarrhea. (Here’s a great list of different herbs and how they can help during cold and flu season.)

While it’s important not to push yourself, dehydration can be dangerous to a mama and her baby, so make drinking a priority! The last thing I wanted was to have to go into the hospital for an IV, so I kept the coconut water, tea, and plain water, (which I actually didn’t touch) next to my bed, each with straws, to make sipping from a reclined position easier. Room temperature or warm drinks are much easier on the belly but if the only way to get it in you is chilled, do what you need to do to amp up your fluids!

Baths

Once I felt well enough to get out of bed (about 24 hours later), I took warm baths with 2 cups of the elder flower and raspberry tea, to help with the diarrhea. If you have a fever but are still up for a bath, make sure it is lukewarm! You can do a lemon foot bath to reduce fever. Just place slices of lemon the bath or a large pot and soak your piggies for about 20 minutes. You can also take a relaxing bath with a bit of peppermint oil to reduce fever.

Food/Supplements

While technically not a food, I have been taking a triple dose of my probiotic to replace the good bacteria in my gut that’s been swept away. I have no affiliation with this company, but I LOVE GutPro. (It seems a bit pricey, but I still have 1/3 of the bottle and it’s been over a year, so it’s actually really economical and recommended by Natasha McBride, founder of the GAPS diet.) It’s unlikely you’ll be eager to eat much in the first few days, but I found it helpful to start with bone broth, homemade applesauce made with just apples and some cinnamon, bananas and fresh pressed juices. I’m steering clear of bottled juices as they have a very high sugar content, which exacerbates diarrhea!

I’m also taking 1 T of elderberry syrup several times a day. Two other options that I have not tried, but seem to work well for others are: Diatomaceous Earth and Activated Charcoal.

Rest

This was a little easier before kids. And nearly impossible at 39 weeks pregnant. Just rolling over hurt. Talking, opening my eyes, having the lights on–it was brutal for a few hours. I didn’t sleep at all that first night, but I stayed in bed for the first 18 hours (really, what else could I do?!) Thankfully, viral gastroenteritis is a self-limiting illness which means it gets better on its own. In other words, this too shall pass! Resting your body is so, so important, especially if you are primed for labor in the near future. I’ll admit, it’s been a bit painful to see my perfectly set up homebirth room turn into a recovery room. My kitchen was meticulous the night I got sick, because just in case I went into labor, I didn’t want anyone to have to deal with a mess. Now…well, let’s just say my 3 year old poured the milk from her cereal all over the floor this morning. Gleefully. But, I have to let go of these things, because a healthy body is far more important than a clean house!

Rest isn’t just for our bodies though. Give your mind a rest too. Stress is powerful, and can completely deplete our energy even when we’re well. So grab a book, that magazine you’ve been wanting to read, or call your mother-in-law to clean or watch the kids if you really have to. Relapses, unfortunately, are common when we push too soon, so do whatever it takes to give yourself ample time to recover and regain your strength! You’ve got this, Mama!

Megan McGrory Massaro is a mother, freelance writer, and author. She wrote The Other Baby Book: A Natural Approach to Baby’s First Year  to empower women to make the best choices for their families.

It’s OK Not to be Psyched About Pain in Childbirth

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Me with AnaBella, a few minutes after birth. See, I look like I forgot all about the pain, right?

Can I start by saying, of course I am eager to hold and hug and nurse and love my baby? We all are. But I don’t want to minimize the other, not-so-eager feelings that some women (myself included) have regarding childbirth. Not everyone falls into this camp, but for those who do, come join my club.

My EDD is 6 days away, and I’ve been eating 6 dates  a day for 4 weeks now, my supplies are all in place, and I’ve had more Red Raspberry Leaf Tea infusions to make me want to never want to drink a hot liquid again. I’ve done pelvic tilts by the 100s, my baby is in the “right” position, and I have a pretty rad birth tub ready to be set up in my bedroom. I’ve done this birth thing before.

Yet I’m nervous. Or reluctant. I can’t quite figure out the emotion, but it’s not the same blind excitement, the same “I’ve-got-this-in-the-bag!” I had the first time around. There’s something in me that knows. Knows the pain, the intensity, and isn’t looking forward to it.Yeah, there are women who have orgasms, and super fast, super fantastic childbirth experiences, where they purr, and just gush about how amazing/wonderful/crazy awesome childbirth is. (If that’s you, congrats. Tell me your secret in the comments.) I wasn’t one of them.

Most women aren’t.

For the vast majority of us, there is some degree of pain involved in childbirth. Given the fact that epidural usage estimates are 80-90%, it’s pretty safe to surmise that most of us aren’t eager to experience the intensity of childbirth. Maybe we feel unprepared, not confident, exhausted, or just can’t understand why someone doesn’t want to take away the pain. STAT. It’s hard for many around me to understand why I don’t want to just head the hospital, pop in an epidural, and watch a movie while my body goes through labor.

This isn’t a post about why I don’t want an epidural. I don’t take tylenol (though, to be fair, I can’t envision a time in the last few years where I’ve actually needed to), because I prefer to keep what goes into my body as clean as possible. So, an epidural doesn’t seem like a great fit for me. If you’re interested in learning a bit more about epidurals, you can head here. Instead, I want to just encourage you, in a weird sort of way.

My first birth was pretty “average.” I went to a hospital. I was in labor for 17 hours. No induction, no epidural. I walked around, went in the tub, had massage–that part of it was pretty decent. But it hurt. A lot. I hated it.

This might be news to some people. There seems to be a generalization that if you’re having an unmedicated birth, especially a home birth, you’re some kind of birthing bravado. Like you’re fearless, confident, or have a really big pelvis. Nah. Not me. I’m having a home birth this time around because I love the care of my midwives, because most births (and pain) are normal and natural, and don’t need to be treated like emergencies, and honestly, I just didn’t want to fight anyone this time. I can keep my baby with me in my bed, don’t have to explain my decisions to a dozen people–an hour–and will be in the comfort of my space, away from the sterile, and yet not-so-sterile, hospital environment.

All that said, though I’m hoping for a glorious, pain-free birth, I’m expecting and preparing for some pain. I’m breaking the rules of the natural childbirth community by saying that, I know. For those who want a natural birth, it’s all over the place – don’t listen to negative talk about birth. Fill your head with positive images of birth, don’t watch A Baby Story, don’t use the word contraction–call it a “surge,” read Ina May, take hypno-birthing–it’s FEAR that allows pain in, they say. And those are valid points, and I do whole-heartedly encourage you to look into ways to manage your pain, learn skills that will help in childbirth, don’t watch silly Hollywood depictions of birth, and rest, rest, rest in the weeks before your birth.

For many women, it’s really hard to bridge the gap of what could have been possible, and what actually happened. Yes, you *could* have had a pain-free, unmedicated labor. But what if you didn’t? Does that mean you didn’t “do it right,” or practice enough or visualize enough? How can we have a conversation about the reality of pain in most women’s birthing experiences, and yet still remain positive and encourage each other to press on and feel empowered, regardless of what is happening in your body?

I’m still mulling over that question, but in the end, if you are one of the women that experiences pain during labor, know you’re in good company. You didn’t fail. I give you permission to loathe your labor. Maybe you won’t, but if you do or if you did, it’s OK. Now you have a precious, precious baby.

And you’ll never have to deliver that baby again.

Megan McGrory Massaro is a mother, freelance writer, and author. She wrote The Other Baby Book: A Natural Approach to Baby’s First Year  to empower women to make the best choices for their families.