Wednesday, January 31, 2007


I finished the sweater for my older son. It was done just in time for this week's cold snap. He wore it to school yesterday and the day before. I had to make him wear something else today lest the teachers think he was sleeping in his clothes.


Pattern: My own (as requested by the son)! A 3x2 all-over rib with a v-neck. I call it "Blue Racer."

Yarn: Cascade 220 (100% Peruvian Wool); 4 skeins Blue Tweed (from "The Heathers"), 1 skein Medium Blue

Needles: Bryspun Bry-flex size 7 straight and circular (so I could do 2 sleeves at once)

Total cost: $33.75 (not bad)

Notes: I was stuck on how to trim the neck. I didn't want to do a ribbed neck because the rest of the sweater was ribbed. I didn't think a 1x1 or 2x2 ribbing would look good against the other ribbing. The other usual choice, garter stitch, didn't seem to offer the right aesthetic either. I went with moss stitch. It looks fine but is, I realized in hind-sight, very un-stretchy. I'd done 8 rows of neck edging and had my son try it on. He couldn't get it over his head easily. I ripped back to 3 rows plus bind off and it fit fine.

Also, I had measured and remeasured him but the back (the first piece I did) was too short when I finished. I tried for the first time re-activating stitches near the bottom of the panel and knitting down. It made for a 1/2 stitch jog which is nearly invisible with the ribbing and dark yarn.

This photo shows the ribbing effect nicely:

And a few gratuitous shots from the proud mother/designer of her active son/model:

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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Baby Boy (or, Up Yours Dr. H)

My client had her baby last weekend. Huzzah!

This was the woman who was subjected to an all-around horrible experience with her first baby (though not as bad as this). But -- fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me -- this woman immediately left the bad doctor's practice. Any place would have been better than where she was, but I'm of course biased toward her ultimate choice of nurse-midwives for subsequent care.

Saturday she walked through a labor in some ways very similar to her first: her water broke but she didn't have contractions within the first six hours; when labor was finally augmented, she dilated steadily but not rapidly; during pushing the baby did not shoot down the birth canal, but crept by millimeters.

Ah, but that is just the superficial stuff. The differences began immediately. She was not called in to the hospital when her water broke, but told to wait at home until contractions were regular. In triage, she was examined by her midwife, not a resident, and they jointly came up with a plan of action. She was encouraged to move, to spend time in the tub, to tell us how she was feeling and what she was thinking. She was VALIDATED!

When it came time to push, she was very anxious that delivery would follow the same pattern as before (namely, 4 hours of pushing, ending with a vacuum extraction). Everyone was quiet and reassuring and encouraging, but she could not imagine another outcome. It was then that I realized how deeply she'd been affected by her first birth. After an hour of pushing we could see a curl of the baby's hair without any help from the midwife in opening the labia. The mother asked, "at what point will you decide whether the vacuum is necessary?" Later on the mother said, "When will you know if you're going to have to look at alternatives for delivery?" All while moving the baby down, having everyone telling her she was moving the baby down and praising her hard work.

Imagine the mother's suprise and joy when she pushed the baby out -- spontaneously, no episiotomy, no assistance -- and learned that it had only taken her an hour and 50 minutes even though the baby was asynclitic and had his hand by his face. And then, 20 minutes later, they weighed the baby. Nine pounds. More than two pounds larger than her first baby. She was stunned. I think that is when she started to realized just what she had done. All. On. Her. Own!

I was just giddy for them. Hugs, kisses and tears aplenty. I didn't say it there -- why invite the spectre of a negative experience? -- but as soon as I heard the baby's size all I could think was "F--- you Dr. Hooberman! See what a woman can do when she is supported, loved and believed?" The birth of their healthy second should not be about saying "I told you so" or avenging anyone. And yet, I can't be big enough to move past that urge.

I leave you with some signs of a good birth:

An empty bed (because the mother is not laying in it)

A birth ball, recently used

A dark bathroom in which the mother labors, surrounded by water, her partner's loving touch and her midwife's encouragement.

p.s. note the doula's knitting on the table in the foreground...another good sign, I like to think.


Monday, January 22, 2007

Blog for Choice Day: my abortion

Blog for Choice Day - January 22, 2007I don't talk about abortion much on this blog. I guess because I am more interested in birth.

That said, I am strongly and troubledly pro-choice. Strongly because I do believe women have the right to decide whether or not they will bear a child. Strongly because the mother is in the best position to decide what is best for her and her child, including ending its life.

Troubledly (if that's a word) because abortion is NOT easy. The woman contemplating abortion is not free to make her decision in a neutral, objective environment. She cannot escape the moral judgments and political charge around it. The procedure itself is often treated casually, even by those who perform it, rather than as death or something akin to it. And though abortion can be the best way out of certain situations, that is not the same thing as it being a resolution to the situation. Its aftermath can last a long time.

In the interest of both honesty and education, I will say a bit about the abortion I had.

I was 27 and pregnant for the first time. This was a much-anticipated baby, conceived, as planned, the summer after I graduated from law school. I endured 8 weeks of hyperemesis in my first trimester. Only the knowledge that it would fade kept me from being suicidal. And it did fade. I entered my second trimester able to eat, eager to gain back some of the 15 pounds I'd lost, and amazed at the potential growing inside me.

At 18 weeks we went for our regularly scheduled ultrasound. You can see it coming, can't you? The happy ultrasound, the sight of our baby's profile, his beautifully beating and four-chambered heart, his jabbing fists and legs. And then the phone call the next day. Our doctor asking me "Do you have a few minutes to talk?"

Turns out I hadn't seen the black spaces inside my baby's skull. Fluid where there should have been gray matter. It was Thursday, a week before Thanksgiving. The next four days were spent getting more detailed ultrasounds, meeting with perinatologists, taking long walks with my spouse, feeling a doomed baby kicking inside me.

We could carry the pregnancy to term, we were told. The baby would likely be born living. Then would start the learning phase for us. Could the baby breathe on his own? Could he digest food? Could he swallow? Not would he run with a limp or would he need surgery when he was two or would he be able to live independently some day.

We had a few weeks to make a decision. After that we would be in the third trimester. Fetal viability would be possible. Without saying it directly, the doctor conveyed that we were approaching the time when abortion would be a more complicated situation, politically and ethically.

We decided, broken-heartedly, to terminate the pregnancy.

Using prostiglandin gels applied at regular intervals to my cervix, the doctors induced labor. Roughly twelve hours later I delivered my tiny son. We held him while he died.

Throughout that time I was also very aware that we were doing something culturally taboo. We were killing our son by birthing him early and denying him life support. It was a secret and shameful something. Which is why I felt the need then and now to tell people about it and call it what it was. No euphamisms. It was aborting a pregnancy that would otherwise go to term.

I was so very thankful we had that option. That I did not have to see my son possibly condemned to existence in a bed, tied to tubes. That subsequent children could have more of my time and attention for not having a severely disabled sibling.

Of course, there is a chance he could have been just fine. Or if not that, at least able to interact with and get joy from the world. It didn't seem likely, but the doctors couldn't rule it out. Just like we don't know whether the pregnant teen might finish high school with a baby and go to college. Just like the college student might find an adoptive family to raise her child.

Abortion is complicated. Regardless of how you feel about it, you have to admit that. But complication does not justify elimination. It would be simpler to say, categorically, no abortions. It would spare women a lot of agonizing decisions. It would give more fetuses a chance to see the light of day.

But it would take away our control of our bodies. I cannot think of anything that justifies that.

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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Kid Lit readers: Hark! Achtung! Attencion!

I have an idea.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Knitting Update

Much has been happening on the old knitting needles. I've been delinquent in getting the photos off my camera, though. This is something of a catch-up post.

First, the WIP. I call it Blue Racer. It is a sweater of my own design, as I go along, based on my son's request for a v-neck. I decided to make it ribbed (3x2) and picked the colors with some input from the son. I'd planned on letting him pick the yarn, but when he went straight to purple mohair, I realized I'd need to provide some guidance. The sweater is actually now a vest with the sleeves in progress. But the only photos I have are back from when it was only a back. Here it is:

Next, the FOs. Plural! I completed the fingerless mitts for my sister in time for Christmas. They were something of an O'Donnell gift.* I do, however, have a second hank of identical yarn with which to make myself a pair. First the entire glove. The color is true to the yarn:

Pattern: Briar Rose Fibers' Cabled Fingerless Mitts
Yarn: 1 hank ($17) Briar Rose Fibers' Earth Song
Notes: I followed the pattern exactly with the exception of casting on 8 fewer stitches than called for. My sister and I are pretty small boned. I also put the thumb opening one repeat (i.e. 4 rows) sooner than the pattern called for. I didn't think the sleeve part needed to be that long. The yarn was so soft. Perfect for the mitts. I'm delighted.

Here's a closeup of the small cable pattern (and even a bit of straw for authenticity):

Finally, a baby hat I made in less than a week. This was probably a two-hour project once I had it underway. But I used the wrong cast-on the first time. Then I tried casting right on to three DPNs rather than casting on to one and splitting it. This made for huge gaps between the stitches at each of the three needles. After nailing the cast-on, I cruised. THIS is something I need to do more of: projects that finish quickly. Sweaters make me nuts. All the stitching, week after week. Anyway, here's the hat:

Pattern: Child's Cotton Hat from Last Minute Knitted Gifts
Yarn: 1 hank handspun from Wild Meadow Angora (60% angora/20% silk/20% merino) purchased at last summer's Michigan Fiber Arts Festival.
Notes: I had to recalculate the stitches because I was a fair bit below gauge (5 sts/inch instead of 4). But it worked. Again, I'm thrilled. This is my first. hat. ever.
And the top view:

This is a gift for my client who's due in a few weeks. She gave me "doulicia;" I'll giver her second-born a hat. I think I'm getting the better end of the bargain!

*"O'Donnell Gift:" A gift given to the recipient with the hope -- indeed, the intent -- that the recipient will not want it and will return it to the giver, who wanted it in the first place. Named for our childhood neighbor brothers, Jim, Chris and Ryan O'Donnell, who for Christmas each year would give each other the gifts they themselves wanted to receive. Hence Jim, in 8th grade, received Stretch Armstrong from Ryan in 3rd.

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Monday, January 15, 2007

Recipe for a Footbath

My client who's due at the end of the month called yesterday to say she'd been having an excruciating backache since Friday. She also wasn't sure if she was having irregular contractions. And maybe she was losing her mucus plug.

Don't you love it when the signs and symptoms could be early labor or could just be late pregnancy? She actually was just calling to check in, not to ask whether this was "it."

Nonetheless, it seemed a footbath was in order.

The footbath I do with clients has evolved through my own experiences with pedicures, from reading Blessingways, and a little improvisation. I don't advertise it as part of my prenatal package. Rather, I keep it as something to offer mothers who are grumpily past their due date, feeling generally out of sorts, or having anxiety of any sort.

Supplies: very large bowl (I use a salad bowl); marbles; sunflower oil, table salt, fresh flower petals or dried rose buds or lavender flowers; essential oils in assorted scents (I have jasmine, lavender and peppermint); corn meal; 1 bath towel; 2 hand towels

1. Position the mother comfortably in a chair or on the couch. She should be able to relax completely with her head and back fully supported and her feet on the floor in front of her. Play relaxing music of her choice or yours.

2. Place the large towel on the floor under her feet. Then fill the bowl 2/3 full with water. Add marbles and flower petals. Ask the mother if she wants a scent added and put in a few drops of whatever oil she chooses.

3. Have the mother soak her feet for 5-10 minutes. Encourage her to roll them over the marbles.

4. Using a hand towel, dry one foot and apply oil. Shake about 1/4 teaspoon salt onto your palm and gently, slowly, rub it onto the woman's foot. Your feet are amazingly sensitive. Table salt will feel the size of rock salt. This can be uncomfortable if the woman has sensitive feet so check in with her and proceed gently in any case.

Put the foot back in the bowl and rinse any stray salt off the mother's shin, calf, etc. Repeat with other foot.

5. Dry first foot and give a foot and leg massage using either the sunflower oil or a scented massage oil. If the woman is past her due date, you can always spend some time pressing on "spleen six" to encourage contractions. If she's before her due date, take care not to press on it! And regardless of the woman's due date or health, keep leg massage light.

Repeat with other foot.

6. Explain the Native American ritual of rubbing feet with cornmeal to prepare someone for a literal or figurative journey. One at at time, take her feet from the bowl and set them on the towel. Dry with liberal amounts of corn meal. This is messy. You may also need to use one of the smaller towels to get cornmeal out from between her toes afterward!

7. Give her your own blessing for courage, strength, power, etc. on the birth journey head.

Note: for women who do not like their feet rubbed, this can also be done with hands.

I have never regretted doing a footbath. The mothers gush about how good it feels. It gives me a space in which to begin the "touch" dialogue between doula and mother. It can force busy mothers to take a little time for themselves. It honors the mother. Etc. Etc.

With lesbian couples, T$ and I have worked together, to give both mothers footbaths together. I have not yet given dads footbaths (and a few have explicitly asked "Am I next?"), mostly because of time constraints. And priorities.

Nothing against the dads, but let's be honest: I'm there for the women.


Friday, January 12, 2007

Bad Press for Doulas: this time from Canada

Another article emphasizing the potential for conflict between doulas and hospital staff. Fortunately it's not one-sided. In fact, it explores the gray area in which doulas work. Nonetheless, there are some clear boundaries for doula care. Adherence to policies like the DONA Code of Ethics will help keep doulas a welcome part of births. Unlike this doula from the above article:

Jacquie Munro, who has been working as a doula for 19 years in Vancouver, once spoke to a doctor standing outside of a delivery room who was in tears. "She said, 'Do you know the doula who is in there?' I said, 'No sorry, I don't.' And she said, 'Well you have to go in there because she just asked if I was old enough to have a medical degree and said her client was not going to agree to a Caesarean, but the baby is doing so poorly, we have no other option.' I said, 'I can't go in, but you go in there and ask the woman what she really wants.' "


Client update

I have a client due in two weeks. This client is special. It was she and her partner who gave me the nickname "doulicia." I am holding lots of hope in my heart that this birth can be a healing birth after their negative first experience.

I have been declining clients left and right for the remainder of winter and early spring. With the change in my schedule (from being at work four days a week to five), it has gotten very hard to do doula care without our family schedule being disrupted for weeks on end. Even one birth includes a minimum of two prenatals and two postnatal visits. These are all evening or weekend appointments. We don't have that many open nights anyway: the older boy's soccer games, the spouse's basketball tickets, my book group, informal knitting meetings, board and committee meetings for the Center. Adding one more thing to the mix gets to be too much.

I've left myself open for June, however, and already have interviewed with one couple due then and will be meeting with another next week. More evening commitments...

A practical analysis of my life right now would say I should give up the doula work. Indeed, when I initially decided to join the Center's board of directors, I said it would replace my doula work. I could still help pregnant women, just in a less direct way. That didn't last long. I can't stop the inquiries from coming. And when someone with a doula heart is presented with the opportunity to work with a pregnant woman, it's nearly impossible to say no.

Believe me, the February-May hiatus has taken A LOT of will power. I had to decline a women who interviewed me for her first birth several years ago. Even though she hired someone else at that time, we've stayed in touch and grown close. When she called with the news she was expecting again (after a miscarriage last year) and wanted me for her doula, my heart screamed YES! She didn't make it any easier, saying how disappointed she was.

It makes me think about alternative ways to structure my practice. For women who primarily want the birth assistance (multips, repeat clients) without the pre- and post-natal care, could I just charge an hourly fee for the birth itself? It doesn't fit with the wholistic model of doula care I've learned. Those women are ultimately better served by a different doula who can give them the "full package." But I know I'd do more births if the commitment were less.


Wednesday, January 10, 2007

If I were God

Wouldn't a better plan for human fertilization be one in which the zygotes were reversed? Men would deposit a single "egg" (call it what you will) in the uterus and women would release the fertilizing agent.

Sperm are so small and mobile. Ejaculate is so runny. Doesn't it seem miraculous we ever get pregnant at all?

Far better to have a single, solid deposit into the uterus.

Oh, and women's "fertilizing agent" wouldn't be released -- as with men presently -- without orgasm.

I shared this little plan with my spouse. He gave me a horrified look. He was picturing the "egg" like a chicken egg. In his estimation, depositing it would require a burp gun, not a penis.

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You Heard It Here First (well, maybe second)

"Sleeves are the new hands" (see Jan. 9, "Plague 101" video). I love Rick Mercer.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Who knew?

Back in September a woman gave birth to triplets from her TWO wombs. Lest you think I'm as bad as "Discovery Health," I mention it for two reasons. One, because I had not heard of the condition (which is less rare than you'd think: 1 in 1,000 women has two uteruses, according to the article). Two because the fact that she conceived in both wombs simultaneously is especially unique.

The article explains that the dual uterus condition results not from duplication of the organ but from improper fusion of it during development. Just as failure of the roof of the mouth to close during gestation produces the cleft palate condition, incomplete union of the two growing sides of the uterus produces two. I did not know that.

But if I understand the description of how the condition arises, it makes sense that each "half" uterus would be connected to one ovary. There wouldn't be four ovaries, because they are farther from the body's midline, where things join. There would be two ovaries, the left one connected to the left uterus, the right one connected to the right. In normal ovulation the ovaries take turns ovulating -- the left one month, the right, the next. It would follow, then, that with a bifurcated uterus, only one "side" at a time would have an egg released to it. To impregnant both uteruses, both ovaries would have to release eggs in the same cycle.

This is certainly not unheard of. In fact, I think it is partly responsible for the increase in multiple births as women age: the ovaries stop taking turns. But the woman in this story is 23. Irrelevant to the result I suppose. Whatever the reason, she had eggs in both uteruses (or fallopian tubes) when the sperm arrived. That one of the fertilized eggs further separated into indentical twins makes the case even more unique. Indeed, it's the only one on record of multiples from two uteruses.

Just now I had a further thought: could the same genetic modification that led to the mother's atypical uterine development also have been responsible for the one embryo's divition into twins? Fraternal twins run in families. The tendancy to release multiple eggs is heritable. Identical twins do not. This indicates that the division that produces twins is not passed on in the genes...which blows my theory.

But, hey, what would one be if one didn't hypothesize?

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