The Fertility Matters Natural Women's Fertility Monitoring System
Since healthy men are always fertile, becoming pregnant naturally - or naturally postponing pregnancy effectively - depends on understanding whether a woman is fertile or not at a particular time--by regularly observing and interpreting a woman's natural signs of fertility and infertility. Menstruating women of childbearing age move through a series of three "phases" as they move from their menstrual period, through ovulation, to the time following ovulation, up to the next menstrual period, typically about a month or so after their last menstrual period. The Fertility Matters Fertility Monitoring System provides couples with a day-to-day visual guide for determining whether she is in the first, relatively infertile, phase; the second--fertile--phase, or the third, quite infertile phase. Through a series of three classes, couples learn how to observe these natural bodily signs of fertility and infertility; how to record them correctly; and how to interpret what they have observed and recorded, so that, if they wish, they can time when they have marital relations in order to achieve pregnancy or postpone pregnancy.
Fertility Matters classes also include a wealth of information on ways to naturally support or enhance fertility, for a woman's general health and well-being. One of the core, unique concepts of Fertility Matters classes is the inclusion of the Four Seasons of the Childbearing Year, and the importance of each "season" of a woman's childbearing years--not only fertility, but also pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding--and how each season is beneficial for a woman's health and long-term well-being. Other special features of my course include my exclusive GIFTs goal-setting process for couples to use to help them better align their actions with their intentions; an optional Bible Study about fertility and sexuality; and private fertility counseling sessions with me, so that couples can feel confident as they learn how to observe, record, and interpret their signs of fertility and what they have charted.
As a natural family planning method, "Fertility Matters" relies heavily on the work and research of Dr. John Billings of Australia, as well as the work of Dr. Konald Prem and John and Sheila Kippley, under whom I was originally trained as an instructor of Natural Family Planning. The Fertility Matters course includes the book, A Cooperative Method of Natural Birth Control by Margaret Nofziger. Not a true "method"--since I am not a medical researcher!--the rules used are based on those of Dr. Billings, and the Kippley-Prem system. Fertility Matters is simply a different, and I would argue, a more intuitive way, to chart a woman's observations of her natural signs of fertility and infertility--one that is easy to interpret correctly.
Time for a little biology lesson, or review, if these concepts are familiar to you. The three phases of infertility-fertility/ovulation-infertility are referred to as a "fertility cycle." Usually quite soon after her menstrual period has ended, a woman's cervix (the opening to her womb) begins to secrete a fluid that has the purpose of transporting her husband's sperm through the cervix and into the womb, allowing the sperm to easily achieve their goal--locating the woman's egg typically in one of her fallopian tubes, where, if conception occurs, one lucky sperm is chosen to unite with the woman's egg and a unique, unrepeatable human life begins. A woman's cervix (and her cervical fluid) also nourishes and even shelters sperm so that if ovulation is somewhat delayed, sperm are released later in a kind of "time release" fashion. This is why conception can occur days after just one act of marital union.
Throughout her fertility cycle, cervical fluid production follows a "wave"-like pattern. It typically begins to flow in limited fashion, then, as ovulation nears, more cervical fluid is produced, and it develops the quality of being highly stretchy. After ovulation, these changes are reversed--the fluid is no longer stretchy and is produced in decreasing quantities until it dries up completely. Her cervix's special "fertility promoting" fluid will not be produced again until her next fertility cycle, assuming she has not become pregnant. The last day on which her cervix produces this special fertility-promoting fluid is called the "peak" day of her fertility cycle--because fertility is all "down hill" from there.
It should be clear from this description that for several days before ovulation, at ovulation, and even up to two days after ovulation, pregnancy is likely if the couple engages in marital relations. It is not possible to definitely determine the exact day of ovulation without ultrasound. Therefore, for couples seeking to avoid pregnancy, a key concept in interpreting whether a woman is fertile or infertile is correctly interpreting that enough days have passed the likely time of ovulation so that conception is no longer likely--in fact, is now highly unlikely. As an experienced fertility educator & counselor, I notice that students in my classes often struggle with the concept of "peak" day. Many students erroneously assume that "Peak Day" is the day on which a woman produces the most cervical fluid, and therefore, begin to count down to the infertile phase too early. However, as I described above, Peak Day is the last day of any type of cervical secretion that indicates high fertility. I designed the Fertility Matters charting system to make it more obvious that a woman has passed her Peak Day. Fertility Matters has the woman chart her observations so that highly fertile observations are placed--literally--at the "peak" of her chart, so that once her observations--again, literally--cross the top of the hill and begin to decline, the couple knows they can begin the countdown to the infertile phase. Otherwise, they begin the countdown too soon, and an unintended pregnancy is more likely.
While I believe Fertility Matters is beneficial for couples seeking to postpone pregnancy, (given the way observations are charted) I believe it is MOST beneficial to couples seeking to achieve pregnancy. As I described above, the classes include vital information about natural ways to enhance fertility. Most natural family planning classes assume students are there with the intention to avoid pregnancy, an assumption that does not meet the educational needs of couples who want help to become pregnant. For this reason, I developed separate courses--including unique classes and different books--for couples with different pregnancy intentions and different fertility-interpretation challenges, and therefore, different educational needs. In addition to class goals and methods focused on the needs of couples who want to become pregnant, the Fertility Matters charting system itself benefits couples seeking to achieve pregnancy. It helps couples better understand when the woman is at her time of maximum fertility, so that they can time their efforts to achieve pregnancy more effectively. In addition to courses designed for couples seeking to avoid and achieve pregnancy, there are Fertility Matters courses for couples facing the unique challenges of interpreting their fertility in the postpartum time or while breastfeeding; and for couples nearing or passing through premenopause.
At this time, live Fertility Matters classes are only available locally, in the Twin Cities / St. Croix Valley area. However, I intend to make them available in the future as online classes. In the meantime, I offer the classes privately, via online technology. If you are interested, feel free to contact me!
What is Ecological Breastfeeding?
It must be noted that ALL breastmilk and any way a mother feeds her baby is good. Whether directly from the breast, from an eye dropper, dripped from a spoon, squirted with a syringe, dribbled out of a cup, or sucked out of a bottle--as the saying goes, "breast is best." The Seven Standards aren't intended to be a measure of whether or not you are "mom enough" (as the now famous TIME magazine cover challenged). There are seven "standards" because ecological breastfeeding is a means of spacing babies. As such, there are rules ("standards") to be followed. If the standards are followed, most women will experience completely natural infertility (for, on average, about 14-15 months after birth) as her body focuses on growing her babe in arms. She will neither ovulate nor menstruate during this time of natural infertility. Until mature eggs are released, there is no chance of pregnancy. As more time passes from birth, the more likely it is that a mother will begin to ovulate again. Studies of ecological breastfeeding mothers have shown that the actual rates of pregnancy are virtually zero from 0-3 months; 2% from 3-6 months, and about 6% after 6 months, assuming the mother has not experienced bleeding or spotting on two or more consecutive days. Eventually, full fertility returns and in the natural order of things, within the context of a normal marital relationship, and with nothing but ecological breastfeeding, babies will come about every two to three years. ...But if natural infertility--babies spaced without charting, abstinence, barriers, medications or devices--isn't something you desire, then ecological breastfeeding isn't for you.
Kippley’s Ecological Breastfeeding Program sets the stage as much as possible for successful breastfeeding. While it is not for every family, it certainly would benefit some families who are unlikely to hear of it. Unfortunately, natural breastfeeding continues to be viewed not only as a countercultural relic of the days of the cave woman, but it is also the best kept secret as a means to naturally space children, even in natural family planning circles.
Am I adding to the guilt? I hope not. My aim is to let mothers and couples know about the most natural form of breastfeeding so they have the option of choosing it, if it is right for them.
Natural breastfeeding moms need to come out of the closet, or more accurately, get out of the house! …and let the world know about this most beautiful way to space babies. To that end, in the coming weeks, I will describe in detail each of Kippley’s Seven Standards and present evidence-based information and personal anecdotes about each of them. I will follow this up with a series of posts explaining what moms, dads, relatives, employees, employers, clergy, and others can do to promote and support breastfeeding within your walls. Make sure to come back in the coming weeks to learn what you can do to encourage the spread of information about natural breastfeeding, to help promote healthier and happier families, mothers, and babies. Or get my posts directly in your email inbox by subscribing to them in the box in the side column of this blog!
"Kabala mother" by John Atherton - originally posted to Flickr as New baby and proud mother, Kabala, Sierra Leone (West Africa). Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Kabala_mother.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Kabala_mother.jpg
With both my husband and I working on our family farm, and having six homeschooled children, there is nearly always somebody around the homestead. However, finding myself with only a sleeping baby in the house over the weekend, I took the opportunity to watch the documentary, Breastmilk, the latest from executive producers Ricki Lake and Abby Epstein (who previously directed and produced The Business of Being Born; and More Business of Being Born). While there were certainly troublesome segments (such as the “feminist” who graphically exalted “lactation porn”...and the random images of spouting breasts) which require that I post a Do Not Watch In Mixed Company or In the Presence of Children warning, the overall message—that successfully breastfeeding a baby in the United States is practically a miracle—came through loud and clear. By following a handful of mothers from late in pregnancy through their baby’s first year of life, Breastmilk reveals how terribly difficult it is for American mothers to make milk.
In watching the documentary, I found myself relating to the one mother in the documentary who successfully nursed her baby as she described the odd experience of lending a sympathetic ear to all of her friends who could not breastfeed, but feeling there was no place to share her own prosaic story of breastfeeding success. Breastmilk left me with feelings akin to survivor’s guilt. While my own social circles contain a far higher percentage of successful breastfeeding mothers than were included in the documentary, I have experienced a less extreme version of the same story, as it seems that breastfeeding problems are the rule, not the exception.
Similarly, many mothers find nursing in public (a necessity unless you never leave your house) incredibly uncomfortable and embarrassing. Carrying a bottle of pumped milk magically eliminates this embarrassment. No one looks twice when a mother feeds her baby with a bottle. However, as I can attest from an outing just yesterday, feeding a baby from the breast—even with a nursing cover—merits triple takes! It is simply ridiculous that an act that defines our species, that our very species has relied upon for survival, is seen as something immodest, scandalous, and by some, even disgusting.
...Should have worn my
How have I been able to feed six children without a bottle in the house? And more directly: Am I a hippie who also smokes joints and flips peace signs at the least provocation? Sorry; no joints and no peace signs—not even during the “passing of the peace” at church—but I probably still qualify as a hippie. I home birth; home school; and have a home business—teaching natural birth classes among other things. On more than one occasion, I have actually been barefoot and pregnant. But my “style” of breastfeeding wasn’t the result of following the example of my peace-loving foremothers; it was the result of following the example of one woman: Sheila Kippley.
While the two Business of Being Born documentaries provided alternatives to medicalized childbirth—namely, natural childbirth; out of hospital births; midwives; and doulas--Breastmilk has no practical help to suggest. A new mother could easily conclude after watching the film that if she doesn’t have a close female friend or partner willing to share in the nursing in order to keep her baby alive, she is destined for breastfeeding failure.
In natural childbirth classes, the “Cascade of Interventions” is a common topic of discussion. I have not noticed the same concept discussed often enough in reference to breastfeeding, although interventions in the childbearing process, both before, during and immediately after birth and throughout the early postpartum weeks definitely affect the ability of the mother to initiate breastfeeding and keep breastfeeding. (View a chart here that I share in my natural birth classes.) Furthermore, there are interventions in the breastfeeding process itself that directly impact breastfeeding success. Just as the natural childbirth movement has been successful in explaining those interventions in the normal birthing process that can result in poor outcomes for the birth, there needs to be a Natural Breastfeeding movement that informs and educates mothers and families about the interventions in breastfeeding that result in poor outcomes for breastfeeding, and more importantly poorer outcomes for babies.
Though the makers of Breastmilk failed to present an alternative to what could be termed “technological” breastfeeding, the reality is that the “natural breastfeeding” model already exists and was described in seven steps over forty years ago: ecological breastfeeding. When Sheila Kippley described what some of its followers call “eco breastfeeding” she must have been considered very radical indeed. In 1971, breastfeeding initiation rates (mothers who nursed at least once before being discharged from the hospital) hit an all-time low of 24%. (1) While breastfeeding initiation rates are much higher today (with 79% of mothers initiating breastfeeding in the United States in 2011) (2), they are still below the Healthy People 2020 goal of 81.9% in all but 17 states. (3)
In the coming weeks, I will explain in detail the seven components ("Standards") of Sheila Kippley’s Ecological Breastfeeding Program, and then conclude with a series of blog posts written for people in positions key to breastfeeding success or failure, providing specific suggestions for things we can do to support breastfeeding mothers and families. I invite all those of goodwill to join with me in promoting Natural Breastfeeding, for the health and well-being of mothers and babies everywhere.
Note to Lake and Epstein: time to start filming More Breastmilk.
Three Things You Can Do to Support Natural Breastfeeding Now
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Feed a Mother and Baby: bring a meal to a breastfeeding mother near you. Include a thank you card.
(1) "Low Breastfeeding Rates and Public Health in the United States," American Journal of Public Health, 2003 December; 93(12)2000
(2) "Breastfeeding Report Card United States 2014" Retrieved from: http://www.cdc.gov/breastfeeding/pdf/2014breastfeedingreportcard.pdf
(3) "Breastfeeding Benefits & Barriers: Breastfeeding Statistics in the United States" Retrieved from: http://www.breastfeedingbasics.org/cgi-bin/deliver.cgi/content/Introduction/sta_us.html
(4) "AAP Reaffirms Breastfeeding Guidelines" Retrieved from: http://www.aap.org/en-us/about-the-aap/aap-press-room/Pages/AAP-Reaffirms-Breastfeeding-Guidelines.aspx
(5) "The World Health Organization's infant feeding recommendation," Retrieved from: http://www.who.int/nutrition/topics/infantfeeding_recommendation/en/
When our eldest daughter was nine months old, Daddy went to Alaska for his annual commercial salmon fishing adventure...er...business trip. The trip was to last for four weeks. The change in our normally exceedingly placid daughter was astounding. For three days, she cried inconsolably. We far underestimated how important her father was to her, even at such a young age. Needless to say, that was the last time Daddy left for such a long time.
When Daddy finally returned, I took her to the airport to pick him up. I remember in vivid detail what happened next. He greeted us in his usual exuberant way. Ready to be done with my "adventure" in single parenting, I was thrilled to see him. She just looked at him for a brief moment and lost interest. She had forgotten her own father in four weeks.
He sat next to her car seat on the trip home. He started joking and playing with her. Her eyes suddenly sparkled with recognition; one might even say with amazement. Sometime in that trip home from the airport, she realized that her long lost daddy had returned.
According to CDC data from 2001-2006, Minnesota ranked as the sixth lowest state in the Union for maternal mortality, with 5 maternal deaths per 100,000 liveborn infants. Wisconsin’s rate was over double Minnesota’s with 10.9 maternal deaths per 100,000 liveborn infants, putting Wisconsin in the lower half of the states at 29th lowest. Compared to a maternal mortality rate of 12.1 for the United States as a whole, both Minnesota and Wisconsin are doing maternal health care rather well. But compared to the Healthy People 2010 goal of no more than 3.3 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births, both states have room for improvement.
Recently, a 32 year old Minneapolis woman with a two week old infant suddenly died of unknown causes, though the death may have been related to a blood clot. Her sudden loss leaves a terrible hole behind in her family and community, and her loss is also experienced by her infant.
While, thankfully, most of us will not personally experience maternal mortality among our family or friends, it is important to be prepared should it occur. Those surrounding this Minneapolis family have rallied to their aid, offering practical help including breast milk donations. Offering mother’s milk cannot begin to fill the hole left by the death of the baby’s mother, but it does provide practical "next best" nourishment for the child, and no doubt eases the emotional strain on the surviving family. For those interested in learning more about donating breastmilk (though not directly to this family)—or those who need to be on the receiving end—the Health Foundations Family Health & Birth Center takes and offers donations, as does the University of Minnesota Medical Center, Fairview. Several other groups that have local chapters for milk sharing are Eats on Feets and Human Milk for Human Babies.
Donors are most often breastfeeding moms who pump or express milk above their own baby’s needs, milk that can be shared with another baby. A less commonly known source of breastmilk is the mother who has lost a baby. It is possible to pump or express and collect milk for a time to donate to another baby in need, a gift known as “Legacy Milk.” For more information, please contact me.
While her milk is invaluable to her baby, a mother is more than just a source of food and comfort. Even very young babies grieve the loss of those closest to them. All babies, especially very young ones, need lots of holding and attachment. For babies who have lost a mother or father, this need is even greater. It is ideal if another person can take up where the mother was forced to leave off due to her unexpected passing away—helping the baby to bond with one other person is key to the baby’s normal emotional development. The infant will need lots of holding and skin-to-skin contact. Swaddling and infant massage will also help baby to feel more secure during this difficult time. Talking with the infant about what happened is important; even if he or she does not understand the meaning of the words, the tone of understanding that baby misses his or her mother and your desire to be a source of comfort will come through loud and clear.
It is said that the hardest thing a parent can endure is the loss of a child. It is not as commonly said that the hardest thing a child can endure is the loss of a mother (or father). Simply because a person cannot express his or her sorrow in words does not mean it does not exist. Baby may express his grief in long bouts of crying, or in sleeping more—or less—than usual, or changes in feeding patterns. While it is crucial that the very young baby form a close attachment to one person, it may feel overwhelming for a widower to cope with these changes in the baby’s behavior in addition to dealing with his own grief. Friends and extended family can be a real blessing if they pick up the slack and spell the surviving parent or other caregiver with the tasks of feeding, holding the baby, changing diapers, giving the survivor an opportunity to shower or eat a meal, providing meals, housecleaning, or helping with the care of older children. Simply knowing that you are praying for them will give them courage and hope. Surrounding the infant and his or her family with love and support is an invaluable gift that will help the family—and the baby—to recover in time. The family will never be the same as it was before, but it will develop a new normal and can grow strong again.
For More Information:
Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D., Helping Infants and Toddlers When Someone They Love Dies
The one and only reason we even knew about attachment parenting in those early days was exposure to these ideas through the Couple to Couple League, the organization that taught us Natural Family Planning. Although CCL has changed, at that time, it was heavily influenced by La Leche League and its teachings about "natural mothering." While CCL wasn't the only voice promoting 'natural mothering,' it was the only one in our circles.
While the Couple to Couple League may have distanced itself from "natural mothering," there are now many other voices advocating attachment parenting in general, or aspects of it: notably, Dr. William and Martha Sears, Mothering.com, Dr. James McKenna, the La Leche League, Attachment Parenting International, Dr. Nils Bergman, and Dr. Jack Newman. Notice all the doctors in there? Attachment parenting is no longer the exclusive territory of hippie housewives. (Maybe it never was, but it is good to see all the amazing docs out there finding the research and doing the writing and promoting to support the fact that mothers and babies are meant to be together.)
I'm a firm believer that parents have been given, by God, the right and the responsibility to raise their children in the way that seems best to them, in their circumstances, with their unique mix of personalities, resources, community and culture. It saddens me just as much now as it did back then, that simply because I might choose to parent my child a bit differently than someone else, this may somehow be perceived as a judgment against them. I believe that most parents are doing the best they can raising their children, using the information and resources they have.
The Searses teach what they call the seven "b's" of attachment parenting: birth bonding; breastfeeding; babywearing; bedding close to baby; belief in the signal value of baby's cry; beware of baby trainers; and balance. If you are curious about any of these aspects of attachment parenting (or all of it!), what follows is my review of attachment parenting, as used within our family for the past thirteen years.
Birth bonding? I've done it six times! This one is pretty well accepted in American society, at least for vaginal births. But in case you've just emerged from subterranean life, bonding at birth makes breastfeeding easier and positively impacts the relationship between mother and baby for years to come, as well as helping to prepare your baby for healthy relationships with others. Having a doula present at your birth and after can be a great resource in helping you bond with baby, both because she can give you helpful bonding tips, as well as run errands so you and your spouse can focus on getting to know your baby.
Most articles about birth bonding are quick to point out that missing bonding at birth doesn't doom you to a distant relationship with your child or curse your child to become the next dictator. So what to do if you miss that early bonding? Well, besides this little hug, pictured at the left, I missed early bonding with my little son, who had serious complications at birth and spent his first fifteen days in the NICU, only able to nurse for the first time about a week after birth. I am delighted to say that we both persevered and he's a happy, healthy, exclusively breastfed baby today. The keys to bonding with your baby, despite a delay, are to touch or be near your baby consistently, to talk with your baby, to be responsive to baby's cues, to get good support when your baby is ready to try breastfeeding, and to negotiate with your baby's health care providers for what's important to you, if need be.
Speaking of breastfeeding, yeah; it's amazing! I LOVE it and have breastfed six babies (in staggered shifts--not all at once!) for over 13 years, with only two breaks of about six weeks each when two of my children weaned at the end of a couple of my pregnancies. Pacifiers have been unnecessary, although I would admit that we've discovered their usefulness in the car with our sixth baby. ;)
On the topic of pacifiers, It was the Couple to Couple League who first introduced us to "ecological breastfeeding," or what I call "natural breastfeeding." In a nutshell, natural breastfeeding is nursing your baby without the use of artificial nipples, with responsiveness to baby's cues, day and night. There are advantages to natural breastfeeding, as well as some cons, and this important, neglected topic is one I will address soon in another blog post. If you want tips for getting a good start or need help, attending a local La Leche League meeting is a great idea. I am also available as a peer counselor and experienced nursing mom!
Babywearing? I can't get enough. I have worn my babies in backpacks, slings, frontpacks, and now, my brand new soft structured Boba. It's not only cuddly and sweet to wear your baby, it's the only way a busy mom can get things done, if you choose not to use swings or other baby gear! Here a shout-out to Baby Wearing International is appropriate. BWI has local chapters, including one in the Twin Cities area, where you can go and try on and even check out carriers before investing in them. What works for another mom and baby may not work for you at all, depending on body sizes, baby's age and stage of development and the reason you need or choose to babywear at any particular moment. BWI meetings are also a great opportunity to meet other AP moms, especially if you live in an area where attachment parenting isn't common.
Bedding in? I adore cuddling with my sleeping baby or toddler. Our children have been and continue to be consistently great sleepers at night, unless they are sick. Thus far, among our six kids, we have had no bed wetting and no night terrors, including our kids who have graduated from the family bed. And to clear things up--no; we don't continue to sleep with our children forever! The exact age of weaning from the family bed has been different with our various children, but regardless of age, we take as much pride in our children developing night-time independence as we do when they take their first steps, or say their first sentence, or paint their first piece of art.... Night-time independence happens gradually and naturally. Just as a child doesn't go from crawling to walking flawlessly in one day, night-time independence is a gradual process, as the child learns to sleep more deeply, to hold his bladder, how to cope with scary dreams, how to cope with the different sights and sounds of night, etc. It's a lot to learn and we as parents need to be patient and trusting as our children move through this process. Safety concerns? Click on the Dr. McKenna link above. While we do practice the family bed, safe bed sharing is important; and bed sharing is not for everyone. Many people find sleeping with baby in a sidecar arrangement (with a co-sleeper) works better for their family than bed sharing. Concerns about intimacy? We have six kids, people. Need I say more?
Responsiveness to baby's cry? Yep. With our first, I responded at the first teeny whimper. Demands on my time are a lot more now than they were then, so it's true that I am not as much of a helicopter mom now as I was then. Yet if I do fail to reach the baby before he is crying, I like to hold him and validate his feelings of fear or sorrow, with words, sounds and body language meant to convey, 'I am here now; you are safe.'
'Beware of baby trainers.' This is simply the old old idea of letting the baby cry it out to train the baby to either stop using crying as a method of communication altogether because nobody is ever going to come, or, more commonly, letting the baby cry it out to train the baby to sleep through the night. Either way, the idea is to let the baby cry without picking up or sometimes even going to the baby. Keeping in mind my statement above about the fact that I truly believe that God gives a particular child to a particular family, and parents need to decide what type of parenting is best for their family, I do take issue with the cry it out strategy because it is rude. I wouldn't simply stand there while an older friend or family member were crying. I would at least attempt to help them or comfort them in some way. I fail to see how ignoring the tears of a very young person is any less rude. Enough said.
Finally, balance. This one eluded me till I was debilitated by postpartum anxiety, when we only had little ones in the house. It is hard for us perfectionistic moms to realize the following:
With my baby and my preschooler asleep on either side, I am grateful especially to Sheila Kippley, one of the founders of CCL, now of Natural Family Planning International, for this quiet moment of beauty. It wouldn't have happened without her. It is my hope that I too can leave a legacy of quiet moments of beauty in the lives of my own children, and in the lives of other families I have been given the privilege to touch, whether in person or through the written word. I would love to hear how AP has influenced your life; contribute to the conversation by making a comment!
Early ultrasounds often detect the presence of two babies, yet as the pregnancy proceeds, one of the embryos dies and slowly disappears, his body absorbed by the placenta, the mother, or his twin. Though more probable as the title of a Nancy Drew mystery, this unnerving process has been named the Vanishing Twin syndrome. The reabsorption process may be accompanied by bleeding or cramping, or it may be completely unnoticeable. A silent death. A quiet loss. The only witness is the other twin.
I did not have any early ultrasounds; a seemingly uneventful first trimester made scans unnecessary. I distinctly recall noticing a teeny spot of blood sometime near the end of the first trimester, but that was all, and certainly within the norm. I didn't bleed at all for the rest of the pregnancy.
About twenty weeks on, I thought I was miscarrying. Lower back pain...cramping...but no bleeding. A quick scan revealed just one baby, our son lying healthy in my womb, his little heart pumping. It even looked like he waved at us. That scan failed to detect the second placental lobe, so despite a 'feeling' early on that perhaps there were twins, these miscarriage symptoms, and some dreams of multiples, there was nothing that occurred during the pregnancy that should have led us to explore the possibility of the existence of a twin.
Wondering if you had another child, but not knowing for certain, is bewildering.
We tend to think that 'bewilderment' is synonymous with 'perplexing', but its etymology means 'to be thoroughly lead into the wilderness'. The wilderness of the human heart. I am lost in the deafening silence of the forest, uncertain whether to fully enter into the valley of the shadow of death, or retreat to the safety of my happy home life. Like the mother of a missing child, I am stuck. There is a time to mourn, says Ecclesiastes, but is it that time? Am I deceiving myself--am I a fool, if I embrace the pain of loss--am I mourning a shadow, an imaginary child? Or do I dishonor a very real baby who is gone by failing to believe, by needing proof before careening heart-first through the remaining trees into the ravine of grief?
An uncertain grief, a tentative grief, feels like I am playing make-believe with my heart, and it will have none of it. Yet with no chance in this world to ever know for certain, it remains a quiet, unresolving pain.
Despite scouring the internet for information on vanishing twins, for information on the grieving process complicated by this syndrome, I have been sorely disappointed. This is a relatively common situation, yet sadly, it appears that very little practical help is available. The few articles I could find concerning grief and vanishing twins seem geared to the loss of a multiple later on in the pregnancy, as if grief is only appropriate when the child you lost is a fetus. Yet despite that, I am grieving my little lost embryo. I am grieving the experience of a twin pregnancy, since I didn't even know there were twins until it was already over. I am grieving the experience of birthing twins. I am grieving the experience of nursing twins. I am grieving the experience of raising twins. My heart has fallen off a wall and shattered and 'all the king's horses and all the king's men' couldn't put it back together again.
I have hesitated to share this part of my story. I have hidden it away. The dramatic circumstances surrounding my surviving son's birth seemed so fantastical that I thought that telling this part of my suffering would be 'too much' for others. But it is hurting so much to keep it in. I believe that I have hidden it away because I just couldn't bear to hear the stupid things people say to grieving parents--especially if there is a survivor. Let me make this clear--the existence of another child cannot replace the one who isn't with you. The love for one child is a unique irreplaceable love. You would never tell someone whose mother died that they should be oh so grateful that their father was still alive, would you?? So please let's retire the ridiculous notion that if a parent has at least one living child, that they should not grieve the death of another.
I have had the strange honor of welcoming five babies in my womb who died in a way that would make each of them especially easy to discount. My first two babies were each a "blighted ovum"--a bizarre name for an equally bizarre condition in which the fertilized ovum implants but the part that is supposed to form into the embryo never develops. Only the placenta grows for a time until the woman's body realizes that something has gone wrong, and begins the process of emptying the womb. My next two losses were "chemical pregnancies"--another odd name--a situation in which an egg is fertilized (...tiny human person created...), begins to produce the hormone hCG (...positive pregnancy test...) but something goes wrong very early in development and the woman has her period (...actually an early miscarriage). And with this recent loss, it isn't clear what happened, but it appears that, assuming that the second lobe and possible remnants of the cord were from my son's twin, there was a little human person who died fairly early on after implantation. And then his / her little body was completely absorbed.
I grieved my first two babies with a pain so intense it was debilitating. My next two losses were much less painful for me. But this one is so very different from the other four. I look at my beautiful son and I see his beauty and his intoxicating little person who draws me into love for him. But I also see a shadow. I see someone who should have been there, with him, but isn't. I look at twins and I wonder what his twin would have been like. Was his twin a boy or a girl? Would they have both had the same color of hair? What color would this baby's eyes have been? Would he or she have snored and snuffled at night, like our son does? How could I possibly have nursed them both? How could I have not? All I know are questions. All I feel is an empty cavern, with the pieces of my heart, my broken heart, cascading ever down.
Yet God touches me with moments of hope. "Lift up your heart," He said to me, through the person of the priest, at Mass. I see myself lifting up my heart, all the shattered pieces, knowing He can melt them back together with His tears. Because He does grieve with me--He authored the words: "Mourn with those who mourn." He was a man 'well acquainted with sorrow'. Jesus wept. He healed with a touch...a word from afar...even with the hem of his garment. And I know His tears can heal.
I don't usually blog about marriage, but since we Americans celebrate Valentine's Day today, my thoughts have drifted from their typical path of all things baby to romantic love...a straying that I grasp is not really all that far from the 'baby' path. We picture romantic love as Cupid, that mischievous cherub who flies bow in hand ready to let fly his arrows of Eros into the hearts of his unsuspecting victims. The lovers court, and in older versions of the tale, betroth, and in due course, find themselves face to face at the altar, pledging vows that are intended to last until one of them lies in a wooden box at that same altar.
This summer, Chris and I will mark our 17th wedding anniversary, God willing. We married young (my sister commented that we looked like we were going to the Prom) and we have grown to middle age together. In those years, we have welcomed six babies into our home, battled pertussis, H1N1, multiple bouts of pneumonia, colic, pre-eclampsia, survived the NICU, lost five babies to miscarriage, moved seven times, paid off all our debts, accumulated more, have lived and still live with toddlers, live with a teen, and had four hundred eighty-nine thousand arguments, give or take...and apologized even more. I am still crazy in love with him, and in his less emotional way, he still loves me too. I hope this resume serves as sufficient life experience to allow you, dear reader, to trust that perhaps I have a little something to say about marriage.
When cupid's arrow first penetrates your heart, you are certain that there was never one so perfect as your beloved. We all know this part. But then, in time, it is as if you get out your own bow, pull the arrow from your heart, and turn it against your beloved as a weapon. Where once you were the greatest paramours that the world had ever known, now you have become intimate enemies, noticing his faults with military precision; her vices with the cold-hearted stare of a general on campaign. You let fly your arrows of accusation, blame, bitter resentment, and disappointment. These misdirected arrows have doubtless killed many a marriage.
I suspect that we were little different from the rest of the getting-married crowd in that we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. 'Happily ever after' makes for a beautiful and satisfying conclusion to a fairy tale, but real human beings rarely experience endless happiness following their hand-in-hand departure from the shower of rice. I am an idealist and Chris is a realist. No little time--the unrepeatable currency of life--has been spent trying to reconcile my desires for the perfect (food, education for our children, manner of handling our finances, housing, parenting style, etc.) with Chris's comfort with the less-than-ideal but realistic. (No; we really couldn't buy that house that was $75,000 over our price range.)
'Marriage takes work,' they say. But somehow every starry eyed lover imagines that somehow theirs will escape this unromantic party-pooper truism. Until they meet Disillusionment.
Chris and I began teaching classes for married and engaged couples before Chris could shave (well, close anyway). We were so green that every time we got to the Disillusionment part of the teaching notes, I was no little bit baffled. What was this cloudy figure Disillusionment we were supposed to promise that our students would confront?
Disillusionment, I am sad to inform, is your neighbor, my dear friends. He is unnaturally tall and bony, and he always wears black. Unnervingly, he never knocks, but appears when you least expect him, right in the heart of your home. He makes himself comfortable, dirty boots planted firmly on your table, while he unthankingly gobbles up your food. He curses, spits, and asks for more. He smokes vile cheap cigars, which leave their stench about the house for hours after his departure. He uses your toilet--with the door open--never flushes and always leaves the seat up. When you least expect it you will find him in your garden, uprooting your most cherished and pampered plant, and will repeat this vandalism, no matter how many times you replant.
Yet he is, to borrow a phrase, a severe mercy. If you let him do his work--if you both let him--you will find in time that the neighbor whom you once abhorred becomes a blessing in disguise. You find that he has not, in fact, eaten you out of house and home; no, he has simply devoured your selfish need to have everything done your way. The smoke you once hated has actually fumigated your heart of such loathsome pests as pride and unrighteous anger. Your neighbor's graceless habits have helped you develop patience. And his work in the garden, no matter how many times, clears away a noxious weed that stands in the way of you learning to love the very real and very imperfect spouse whom you actually and truly vowed to love till the day one of you died, no matter what.
I get it now. Disillusionment is what happens when the rosy colored glasses are irrevocably smashed. The image of your spouse--the pampered plant sprouted in your head, transplanted in the needy soil of your heart, watered in the intensity of courtship, and fertilized by the heady bliss of your wedding day--is revealed to be nothing but a lovely but terribly false image, whose very existence was always about you and your own selfishness. The 'real' Chris would not require something as quotidian as sleep, but would rise effortlessly and joyfully in the middle of the night to ride off in sub-zero temperatures to purchase craved delicacies for his beloved pregnant wife. He would somehow manage to provide a bounty of financial blessings to effortlessly support an ever-burgeoning family while being home promptly at five every evening to tousle the hair of his first-born son and toss the baby in the air. He would never grow tired, or sick, or angry. He would be ever patient and never notice your impatience. He would happily encourage your habit of working on projects even if you "forgot" to make dinner or change the baby's diaper. He would uncomplainingly lay down whatever he was doing to run out to the store for that little something you forgot. He would forever be taken with your beauty and his passion would be expressed in love songs of praise and painstakingly worded poetry. In other words, he would be all-sufficient provider, humble servant, model husband, perfect father, and ardent lover whenever it suited.
Disillusionment, my friends, is what happens when you realize that he (or she for you guy readers) isn't perfect, and that imperfection is never in the ways you expect, or hope for. He will disappoint you and usually in the very things that matter the most to you (that's why you notice). She will fail you. She will misunderstand. In the very ways you try the hardest to show your caring, she will horribly misinterpret and suspect and assume the worst of you and accuse you of selfishness. He (or she) will fail miserably to see his (or her) worst faults, but will somehow have eagle's eyes for yours. This is why there are vows, friends. Because 'for worse' can be pretty ugly.
Ladies, it is 100% your responsibility to make your marriage work. Gents, it is 100% your responsibility to make your marriage work. Turn the arrow around. STOP noticing all the big and little ways he (or she) fails to be that false image you cultivated in the soil of your own selfish heart, and point the arrow at yourself. How can you be a better spouse today, this moment, with your next word, in your next breath? That is how happily ever after happens, dear friends. It begins when each one stops expecting the other to make it happen, and takes 100% responsibility for making it happen, not someday, but right here, right now. Love isn't pictured as an arrow in your heart for nothing. Real love will hurt you in a good way. It will transform you and perfect you--both of you. And then you really will live 'happily ever after.'
Please note: this story and accompanying photographs are copyrighted 2014, by Christelle J. K. Hagen. Neither the story nor the photographs may be used in part or in whole in any form without my express written permission.
Blissfully unaware that my son's heart had stopped some minutes earlier, I sank down into the tub, with his little body pressed against my heart. I was not only a veteran mother with five other living children eagerly awaiting their new baby, but an experienced homebirth mom, having given birth at home three times before, with straightforward births and healthy babies. This time would be different.
My dream birth was to have a peaceful waterbirth, at night by candlelight, with my husband at my side, under the watchful eyes of my midwives and supported by my friend, a certified Hypnobabies doula. Since I am also a certified Hypnobabies doula, but had never had my own Hypnobabies birth before, I was planning to use this method to help me stay relaxed during the birth and was hoping for not only a safe birth for me and my baby, but as comfortable a birth as possible. I spent many hours during my pregnancy listening to my Hypnobabies tracks, and one of the most important parts of the birth that I had envisioned was giving birth in the beautiful birthing room that I had carefully decorated. This room I prayerfully named The Heart of the Mystic Rose Room.
I woke up around 5:30 am the morning of his birth. I noticed that my uterus was "exercising" again, but thought little of it. I had always given birth at night, and expected that this time would be the same. I recall spending what I now know was the early part of our birthing time corresponding--with a mom who had very recently miscarried--and with a woman who wanted to become a mother. But after an hour and a half of contractions ("waves" in hypno-speak) which were little different from the ones I had experienced for days, I began to feel a pulling in my back during the waves that felt different. A little before 7 am, when I went to the bathroom, I thought maybe I was leaking a little amniotic fluid and shortly after, my waves got a lot more intense, so I excitedly realized that it was finally THE day! My husband was in the shower, and since I had not told him that I thought it was our birthing time before he got into the shower, I went ahead and called my midwife and my doula and told them both to come on over!
It was really important for me to give birth in my little birthing room, so before my birth got more intense, I put my hair up and grabbed a few things (my glasses, slippers, body pillow, Hypnobabies CD's), told my husband that it was time! and headed to the birth room. Once there, I put on the waterbirth gown that my mom had made for me and settled in. Chris (my husband) soon arrived and began to fill up the birth tub. During the pregnancy, I had imagined my "hypno-anesthesia" as a swirling wave, like sparkly water, and every time I felt a wave passing through me, I used slow breathing and imagined that swirling wave going down through me and washing away any discomfort, and the combination of both was working really well to help me through each wave.
About a half hour later, my midwife arrived and checked my vitals and baby's heart. All was normal. Soon after, my doula also arrived and prayed with me, and not long after, my other midwife arrived.
I decided to get into the birth tub where two of our other children had been born. So far, the birth felt very similar to my other homebirths, with the addition of being able to use the visualization of my swirling hypno-anesthesia during my birthing waves. I also started listening to the "Birthing Day Affirmations" track.
About 9 o'clock, I got out of the tub to use the bathroom and while there, I started feeling pushy. My midwife told me that baby wasn't tolerating me being in a sitting position, so I changed to hands and knees and standing for awhile. I had decided that as soon as I felt really pushy, I would push as hard as possible. That was about an hour later. Being that I was giving birth to my sixth full-term baby, my midwife expected baby to pretty much fall out. I knew better! ;)
Now there are plenty of women who can simply "breathe" their babies out. However, I give birth to babies with...shall we say...larger than average head sizes. The one in utero in this picture had a head that measured 14.5 inches at birth--not ginormous, but no teeny weeny head either. I had already had a birth in which I pushed HARD for 2 hours (and it wasn't my first birth). So there is no gentle "breathing" baby out for this lady..more power to those of you who can.
I was excited to get pushing because I was already experiencing quite a lot of back pain and pushing felt good. To ease the pain in my back, we did counterpressure (a lot of that), leaning over the birthing ball, hip squeezes, as well as compresses. My midwives and doulas did a great job encouraging me that I was birthing well.
As time passed, I began to notice severe pain in my lower abdomen. No amount of visualizing or breathing was making a lick of difference with that. :*( I just had a strong sense that this lower abdominal pain was Not Normal. A crescent shape encircling the very lower part of my abdomen felt like it was in one endless cramp.
After pushing pretty hard for about a half hour (around 10:30 am) my midwife wanted to check to see what the hold-up was. As she performed the exam, I thought, "This birth is doomed." At this point, I just felt that it was time to call a spade a spade. The birth had changed; it just didn't "feel right" to me. Remember I had already given birth five times before, so I knew what normal feels like for me. I have had the whole "self doubt"/transition thing before. But this was different. I had a knowing that the birth had taken an abnormal turn somewhere around the time I started pushing. I asked to be taken to the hospital for a cesarean.
Everybody, including my husband, thought I was just giving up. (Nope.) I said, "I'm serious. I want a cesarean; this pain feels like knives." Not hearing my comment about knives (which was not an exact description of the pain I was feeling--but the best I could do at the time) and convinced that I was still going to give birth any moment, my midwives told me it was too late to attempt a trip to the hospital. I agreed to stay.
Of course, here is where the "what if's" are so tempting. But no one knows what would have happened at the hospital. Maybe my son would have been born by cesarean and would have avoided what would ultimately happen to him at home. Maybe he would have been revived sooner, if it had come to that. ...But with an anterior placenta (placenta at the front of the uterus--lying between your belly and the baby), it is sometimes necessary to cut through the placenta to perform a cesarean. Turns out ours had a velamentous umbilical cord insertion with exposed blood vessels. Those blood vessels may have been cut in the surgery with unknown effects on my son (those vessels were, after all, attached to my son's blood supply). If he had needed to be resuscitated at the hospital, it is possible that efforts to revive him would have been stopped earlier than they were at home; maybe he would not have been revived at all??...
I have decided that you can play the "what if" game all day, but in the end, what happened is what happened. Here is where my faith comes in. Either God prevented us from something worse by keeping us at home OR He redeemed a mistake and allowed our son to live, despite that mistake. Concluding that we were foolish to be (or stay) home OR that we would have been more (or less) safe in the hospital is simply speculation and has more to do with one's beliefs about birth than about facts....
I decided to get back into the tub. Here is where my memory gets fuzzy. Thanks to the birth notes from my doula, I apparently pushed for another one and half hours after requesting to transfer to the hospital.
During those one and a half hours, what I do remember is feeling excruciating pain in my lower abdomen. Meanwhile, my midwife was frequently checking baby's heart. Overall, baby's heart rate was fine, but it seemed that whenever I was in a forward-leaning position (like the one in this photo), baby's heart would show stress.
Around 11:15 am, I was given oxygen and asked to lean back against the side of the tub. Let me say that the LAST thing I wanted to do was lean back, but I wanted to do whatever baby needed, so I leaned back. The "waves" I was experiencing had turned into nothing less than a tremendous violent force that caused me to push as hard as I possibly could from the second they began to the second they ended. I am not exactly a "quiet" birther (ha!) but these train engine-strength forces were taking me to a new level of bellowing that I had never before achieved. Thankfully, Chris was there, and I held onto his hand with a vise-like grip. To my great relief, after about five minutes leaning back like that, baby's heart sounded good, so I chose to stand up, supported by Chris.
What I noticed next was that the birth forces that were possessing my body began to grow closer and closer over roughly the next half hour. Eventually, as soon as one would end, the next would start. I recall both my doula and midwife reminding me to "breathe for my baby" and "take some deep breaths"--but all I was capable of doing was gasping a few times when I was able to stop shouting between each force, and another one would immediately start. I knew that what I was experiencing was not normal, but I did not have enough time to explain what was happening in the short seconds between the birth forces that were pummeling my body. All I could think was, "All for you, Jesus," a prayer that had popped into my head several weeks before his birth, and one I decided at that time that I would pray during the birth. I suddenly noticed that my legs had gone to "sleep" and I shook them, surprised that I had been standing still for so long that both of my legs would go to sleep.
At 11:53 am, something odd occurred that I have yet to fully understand. I felt a teeny painless pop on the side of my belly, about two inches to the right of my navel and maybe one inch up. Immediately, warmth came from that spot and spread downward from the spot. It felt like it was just under my skin and whatever popped felt very small, like the severed end of a blood vessel. I immediately wondered if this spreading warmth were meconium, blood, or amniotic fluid? It was startling, as I have never before (or since) felt anything like that. I tried to quickly explain what had happened and I think I muttered, "Something changed; something changed." Doula's birth notes say, "felt like something released?" Right away, both baby's and my vitals were checked and both were good.
Seven minutes later, I heard a tremendous splash hit the water in the tub. Both Chris and I thought the baby had fallen into the tub! But thankfully it turned out that it was just my waters releasing. (I didn't know at the time, but there was meconium in the amniotic fluid.) A minute later, baby's head was showing.
At this point, I was so tired, and I thought to myself, "Just let my uterus push out the rest of the baby." So I stopped pushing for a little while. But then I strongly felt that I must keep pushing--and hard! In the next two minutes, despite monitoring the baby's heart, the midwife couldn't hear it (not terribly unusual with baby so low). It is possible that the placenta separated at this time, or it is also possible that the baby compressed the exposed blood vessels on the placenta, cutting off his own circulation, or perhaps both. Whatever occurred, this is when his heart stopped.
Four minutes after the baby's head began to show, the rest of the baby's head was out, and a minute later, at 12:06 pm, the baby was born! He was passed between my legs and I held him to my chest. Encouraged by my midwife, I sat down in the tub.
I noticed right away that he was a boy. I held him in my arms and Chris also reached out for him. Meanwhile, my midwives tried to find his pulse. Unbeknownst to me, the midwife who caught him had noticed how floppy he was, and was immediately concerned. I stroked his body and talked with him, encouraging him to breathe, noticing that his hair seemed bloodier than my other babies. However, I was unconcerned that he had not yet started breathing, as it had taken a little while for his biggest big brother to breathe, so I assumed this was the same situation.
Within a minute, to my surprise, he was given oxygen by mask, and almost as quickly, I was up and out of the tub and my midwives helped me to shuffle to the nearby bed where they initiated full CPR. Meanwhile, my doula called 911. His little body laid next to me on the bed. I stroked his little hand and arm, as I slowly watched them turn blue. Fifteen minutes of "One...two...three...(blow)..."--during which I talked with him, pled with him to come back, and begged for the intercession of every known saint--even one whose name I couldn't remember. Chris and I prayed the Lord's Prayer together. Chris ran to tell my mother and our children what had happened and asked them to pray; blessed the baby with a relic of St. Anthony Claret; and at my request, blessed him with holy water. I felt distinctly that this was a spiritual battle. Scattered thoughts: "Do I really have to have first hand experience of stillbirth?" (This was when I was thinking of being a perinatal loss doula.) Meanwhile, my midwives continued giving my son CPR.
When his entire arm had turned blue, I thought he was gone. (Entering into the Heart of the Mystic Rose meant, for me, a willingness to have my own heart pierced with a sword.) Then, suddenly aware that my midwives were still working on him, I thought, "If they haven't given up on him, I can't give up on him." I told him that I claimed him for this world, that he had work to do here.
It was after he was blessed with holy water, 12:19pm, that the EMT's arrived. Two minutes later, they were in the birth room. My midwife declared, "I feel a pulse!" Within a few minutes, an EMT took over the chest compressions, and my midwife began to cut his cord, stopping for a moment to thoughtfully ask if Chris wanted to do it. Soon after, my newborn son was whisked away in the ambulance.
He spent the next fifteen days in the NICU. That is another story, but the short version is, he recovered, he is home now, and as far as we know, doing all the normal things a newborn should do. He is our Christmas miracle! When I look down at his little perfect face, right now, I am struck, almost painfully so, with the beauty that I have been given THIS moment, the fact that he could very easily NOT be here at all, and I feel so unworthy of this miracle. My gratefulness must never end.
Did Hypnobabies give me a pain-free birth? No. But when your placenta tears away from your uterus and almost kills your baby, I don't think anyone would expect to feel no pain.
Did I have my dream birth? No. But I had my most fervent prayer answered--that my son would be returned to us, that he would live. And that is worth far more.
If this story has touched your heart, please consider giving to the Tiny Treasures Love Cupboard, in memory of the babies who won't come back.
I wrote this post for a few reasons. One was to simply tell my version of my son's birth. I needed to do this because his birth was traumatic, and part of the healing process for me has been to write out our story. Secondly, I wanted to describe what a placental abruption feels like (at least what it felt like for me) from the insider's perspective. I hope that this might be helpful for both mothers giving birth, as well as for health care providers and doulas. If reading my story helps even one mother to identify these sensations and get help for herself and her baby immediately, then the effort of writing and the emotional risk of posting this story will be worth it! If any mother fears that she may be feeling similar sensations to what I felt, please do not wait--get to the closest hospital and have them check you and your baby!!
Because I wanted to focus on what this birth felt like from the inside, I left out most of my own speculations about causes, details of the midwifery care I received, various ways my husband and doula supported me, and anyone else's theories of what happened. If this leaves the impression that I was virtually "on my own" during the birth--that is an erroneous conclusion. I believe I was well supported during my birth and believe that my son and I got excellent midwifery care and support from my midwives, my doula, and my husband.
If there are any mothers out there who have also experienced a placental abruption, who have lost a baby, or just feel a desire to reach out to me in order to have someone listen for any other reason, feel free to leave a comment below--and please do not hesitate to contact me.
Health Foundations Birth Center (St. Paul, MN) recently published a great list of local, regional, and national organizations ready to help families facing loss.
To add to their list, please keep in mind St. Croix Birth & Parenting. The Tiny Treasures Love Cupboard is now open! A Love Cupboard is a clothing donation program for families experiencing loss, run by volunteer coordinators, and sponsored by Stillbirthday. What will families find in the Tiny Treasures Love Cupboard? Families facing and experiencing loss will find a variety of hand-made tiny/micro-preemie, preemie, newborn and small infant clothes and baby blankets in both gender-neutral, boy, and girl styles, made by Team Tiny Treasures, a group of talented volunteers who knit, crochet, and sew. The clothes can be used in the interim, if the length of the baby's life is uncertain; or to dress the baby after he or she has passed away. We also provide maternity clothes for families facing financial difficulties--common when your pregnancy is high-risk. Here are some examples of lovely donations available now to receiving families, and made by members of Team Tiny Treasures:
Team Tiny Treasures would love to expand! We are especially looking for additional seamstresses who can make bereavement diapers and tiny shrouds/wraps for miscarried babies. We are also in need of additional crocheted burial cocoons. Patterns are available from St. Croix Birth & Parenting. We would especially love to welcome jewelry makers who would be willing to make matching mom/baby bracelets. If you aren't the crafty type, financial gifts are always welcome which we will use to purchase items for memory baskets or to ship items to families who are located out of the area, or families who cannot visit the Tiny Treasures room. Gifts of new or like-new baby clothes up to size 0-3 months and gently used maternity clothes are also welcome! Contact us for more information, to volunteer, or to donate items.
My first exposure to a ‘vetch’ was as a gardener, and I immediately recall my intense annoyance with this very hardy (read un-killable) legume. Turns out I should have had a little more respect for this tenacious invader, or at least for its amazing plant ‘cousin’, milk vetch.
Astragalus, also known as milk vetch and Huang-qi, is a legume native to China. There are over 1000 species in the Astragalus genus, but according to Richo Cech, author of Making Plant Medicine, the species Astragalus membranaceus and A. mongholicus are to be preferred for herbal medicine purposes, due to their superior efficacy compared to other astragalus species, so look for one of those if you want to try growing it yourself.
Astragalus membranaceus is believed to be safe for use during pregnancy, and indeed, is an herbal remedy with an amazing variety of indications that may be helpful during gestation. There is another astragalus species known as "locoweed" which is dangerous and has been associated with fetal malformations and miscarriages in animal studies; therefore, it is important to make sure to identify the correct species. Since astragalus is more potent than a nourishing herb, if you do decide to try astragalus, take the smallest effective dose. Short-term use only is recommended until more is known about the safety of A. membranaceus in pregnancy. Of course, it is always advisable that you consult with your health care provider before taking any herb during pregnancy.
Early pregnancy is notorious as a time when the expectant mother is astoundingly tired. Astragalus to the rescue! Astragalus helps to restore energy and improves an individual’s stamina. As if being exhausted isn’t enough, pregnant women often note that they are more susceptible to viruses, due to their diminished immune system functioning. Thankfully, astragalus is well known as an immune system booster. In fact, the only known medications with which astragalus interacts negatively are those designed to suppress the immune system, which, of course, most pregnant women will not be taking.
As pregnancy progresses, a woman’s body produces increasing amounts of progesterone, an essential hormone that helps her body maintain the pregnancy. However, progesterone has the effect of slowing digestion, which for some, can lead to flatulence. Thankfully for everyone, relief of gas is one of astragalus’s actions.
All those extra hormones, in addition to the greatly increased blood volume—normal during pregnancy—causes the expectant mom’s liver to work much harder. Astragalus supports liver functioning and is even believed to help restore liver damage. This makes astragalus an important herb for women at greater risk for pre-eclampsia, including moms with a personal or family history of pre-eclampsia, or a history of kidney disease, PCOS, hypertension, diabetes, autoimmune disease, sickle cell disease, or organ transplant; first-time moms; first pregnancies with a different father; obese moms; moms over age 40 or teen moms; moms by IVF; and moms expecting multiples, since decreased liver functioning plays a role in pre-eclampsia. This is especially true if you use astragalus with other liver-protective herbs such as dandelion and milk thistle (both believed safe for use during pregnancy). Kidney function is also aided by astragalus, making it a friend to pregnant women with a tendency to bladder infection or kidney stones.
Although many pregnant women find that their allergy symptoms are partially relieved during pregnancy, it is also a time when one is generally more reluctant to use over-the-counter and prescription medications for allergies, making astragalus an attractive, safe option for relief from allergies. Asthma sufferers can also look to astragalus for relief.
If you want to give astragalus a try, what is the best means to get it into your body? According to Richo Cech, the preferred method of consumption is a basic tea or decoction made from the fresh or dried root—ideally from roots dug in the fall of the second or third year of growth, or you can just add astragalus root to soups and consume it directly. If you don’t have access to the fresh or dried root, take astragalus in tincture form, using the dosage as recommended by the manufacturer, or as directed by your health care provider. Here’s to milk vetch: a powerhouse for pregnant moms!
Richo Cech, Making Plant Medicine, Horizon Herbs (Williams, OR) 2000
Jessie Hawkins, Herbalism for the Birth Professional Textbook, Thistle Publications (Franklin, TN) 2012
The St. Croix
Copyright 2008-2020 Christelle J. K. Hagen. This website is for educational purposes only. Make sure to consult
with a midwife or other health care professional about your unique health situation.
with a midwife or other health care professional about your unique health situation.