First Comes Baby, Then Comes Marriage.

July 20, 2013

Once upon a time, there was a girl who spent untold hours at a meditation retreat visualizing every detail of her future storybook wedding.

That was me, in 2007, at my first silent Vipassana retreat. A lot can change in six years.

Compared to the birth of a newborn child, matrimonial ceremonies are a bit anticlimactic.

Yesterday, I got married. Yes, I love him. Yes, I am thrilled to be in a loving, content, committed relationship with a wonderfully kind, intelligent, creative person. Admittedly, our legal marriage was wholly instigated by immigration issues and our desire to be able to enter the United States, to visit during the summers and maybe, though probably not, someday move there, as a family.

Life is not a fairy tale, but when we met, it did feel like one — at least for the first week. I was living in Guatemala City at the time and had gone to visit Lake Atitlan to spend several days quietly reflecting on 2011 and celebrating the start of 2012. My amazing friends in San Marcos, a Colombiano and Mexicana power hippie couple, basically set us up to house-sit together. There was only one bed. Those long, lazy, luxurious days were filled with cooking, eating, yoga, reading, writing (me), jewelry-making (him) and lovemaking (us).

Long story short, our daughter Jade was born in January 2013. A lot of my views have shifted over the past six years, and I no longer desired a white wedding. Although I am a supporter of the legalization of gay marriage, official matrimony just wasn’t a personal priority, much less holy matrimony in the Catholic Church in which both of us were raised. Upon registering and filing for Jade’s passport at the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala City, I asked about my mate’s eligibility for a tourist visa. He’s a self-employed, cash-only, semi-hippie kind of guy who doesn’t have documentation to prove that he will not stay in the States and become a terrorist, so marriage was the logical next step.

We are summering in his home country, Colombia, where we recently filed all the requisite notorized, certified, translated, stamped, sealed and signed paperwork. Yesterday, the matrimonio civil took place before the Notaria, which is the Colombian equivalent of a Justice of the Peace. Ironically, in order to be allowed to marry, we had to pretend that we have no children. (Admitting that fact would involve even more paperwork, lawyers and fees, while not admitting it hurt no one and would not be traceable, since our baby’s birth is only registered in Guatemala and the U.S.)

Although we’d hadn’t planned any big fanfare around the event, his family naturally refused to let it go unnoticed. A million photos were taken, rice was thrown, meals were shared and everyone ate cake. As is apparently the tradition, we, the novios, said a few words at our lovely little reception. I choked out a gracias to my nueva familia before breaking into sobs while trying to gracefully express how fortunate I feel to have met and now married their son/brother/nephew/cousin.

Even though now I’m officially a señora, you can still call me señorita.

My own parents just celebrated their 35th anniversary last week, and they continue to be a great example of an enduring partnership that has weathered some pretty intense storms over the years. I solicited advice on cultivating a lasting, loving marriage from my friends. The consensus seems to be that compassion, communication and laughter are key. My husband (how weird it feels to write that!) and I are lucky to have much in common… we are vegetarians who will eat fish if we must; we are vociferous readers; we are laid-back; we are spiritual but not religious; we like to travel; and, most of all, we are co-parenting a precious little girl.

My top marriage advice tidbits come from two expat friends I met in Guatemala City. A few years ago, at his 36th wedding anniversary party, when asked what makes his marriage work, Phil said: “It’s not easy. You take it day by day, moment to moment.”

And the other day, in response to my inquiry, “What makes for a lasting, loving marriage?” Kat poetically reminded me:

Live in that question tomorrow and the next day and the next day and you will have a lasting and loving marriage It can only deteriorate if you view it as something you did or have. Treat your relationship as a living being and it will continue to grow!

And thus, they lived happily ever after… in a non-fairy-tale, day-to-day, moment-to-moment, Middle Path kind of way!

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Eight Months In

I’m ba-ack! I have decided to revive this blog to continue the conversation about parenting and mothering.

Jade is eight and a half months old now. She is laughing, crawling, making funny faces and babbling. She is delightful!

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Here’s a story I wrote about a very scary experience we had when she got sick this summer while we were traveling in Colombia.

Moving On

Jade 9 weeks

Jade is nine weeks old today.

It has been and will continue to be a wild ride — pregnancy, motherhood and all.

I have found that the key is moderation. The middle way, if you will. You get  lots of (often unsolicited) advice when you’re pregnant and even more when you’re carrying around a baby. Listen and take it or leave it politely. You can’t follow everyone’s advice and must find your own way to navigate the “full catastrophe” of being a human parent on Earth.

So, here is my unsolicited advice to new mothers (and to myself):

Don’t go to extremes… find moderation in your activities, addictions and emotional reactions. This doesn’t make you boring, it makes you balanced.

Once the madness of the first weeks subsides, be sure to take some quality time for yourself, and also make time for you and your partner without the darling child around, once she is old enough to be left with a babysitter for a few hours.

Enjoy every moment with your precious little being… the embodiment of the miracle of life.

Be mindful, compassionate, loving and kind to yourself, your baby, and all beings.

In an effort to consolidate my writings, from now on you can find my writings at Yoga Freedom.

Thank you for reading!

Namaste,
Michelle

On Breastfeeding

cow face

First, let me say I believe breastfeeding is absolutely the way to go. It’s an amazing mammalian function and I’m happy that I’m able to do it with relative ease. It’s far healthier, cheaper and more convenient than formula feeding with bottles.

And, though I didn’t try very hard, I can officially say that I am anti breast pump. (I unexpectedly went back to work at LIFE School this past Monday, when Jade was just 5 weeks old, but only for two hours each mid-morning, teaching English to a group of six sweet Spanish-speaking students ranging from grades 3 to 6. Though I was planning to take an eight-month maternity leave, this opportunity came up when the former ESL teach unexpectedly quit, and I took it. It’s going well so far and being away from home only 2.5 hours, I don’t really need to pump breast milk, thankfully.)

I read precious little about breastfeeding before the birth. I had a general idea of how to do it, but the notion of hiring a lactation specialist seemed absurd. Turns out, breastfeeding does not happen as magically or naturally as one might think. My midwife Daniela graciously showed me how to get Jade to latch on properly, and gave me the clever tip to put cabbage leaves in the freezer to ease the swelling and pain on the day when my milk came in. (Even though I ended up having a c-section, I was so blessed to have the wisdom and advice of the midwife in the first ten days of Jade’s vida.)

I did experience some minor nipple cracking and subsequent scabbing initally, but it passed quickly with the help of macadamia nut oil and vitamin D from sitting barechested in the sunlight after feedings. I understand it is a lot worse for many women. So I consider myself lucky.

I did not feel like a cow during my pregnancy, even with the big third trimester belly. In fact, when the doctor weighed me just before I gave birth, I discovered that I’d only gained about five pounds throughout the whole embarazo. I gained weight in my midsection, obviously, but lost weight in my arms, legs, and face, thanks wholly to the Pana diet. I was fortunate not to get swollen in my face or feet either, thanks to yoga and good genes.

But now I feel like a cow. Even as a relative breastfeeding expert with an almost-six-week-old baby who is very adorable and whom I love with all my heart and soul. Sometimes it feels like all she wants is my milk. The feedings are nonstop. Approximately every two to three hours, day and night. (Sometimes more often, sometimes a little less frequent.) Occasionally she cries even after being fed, but it’s usually due to the desire to pass gas or to poop, or because her diaper is wet. And she’s an infant and infants cry as their only way of communicating. It’s heartbreaking though, and frustrating and I feel like a big old cow who just gives milk all the time. I have newfound empathy for dairy cows. I look forward to the day when the feedings get a little less frequent, but I plan to breastfeed for at least the first year.

On another note, I have newfound awe for single mothers as I sit here writing and my fabulous partner changes the (cloth, mind you) diaper, clips the fingernails and dances with Jade to calm her down after clipping her fingernails. I honestly cannot imagine how nurting a baby could be done alone. If you’re a single mother, you are absolutely amazing and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

The Birth Saga, Part 2

{Read Part 1 of this saga}

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The anesthesiologist had told me to try to speak as little as possible for the rest of the evening and night after my c-section. Apparently a side effect of the morphine is that the air that enters your mouth via talking causes intestinal bloating and pain. Hence, I did my best to zip my lips. Instead, I communicated via  notes in my journal to Bladi.

Such as, “Puedes darme un chicle?” (Will you give me a piece of gum?) and “Nombre: Jade Ciranda?” (We hadn’t totally decided on the name, though we had discussed it) and “Por que tenemos que esperar una media hora para verla?” (Why do we have to wait half an hour to see her?).

This is the nightmare of a hospital birth… not knowing what is happening to your brand new baby in the crucial moments right after her birth. Since Jade was past her due date, the doctor decided she should be given sugar water to drink… without giving her the opportunity to latch on for breastfeeding first (which she did, quite well, when she was given to me).

The nurses apparently wanted to bathe her right away, but even the doctor said no, to wait, because the white mucousy coating that babies come out with should be left on their skin. Bladi had to repeatedly go to the nurse’s station and pester them to bring her to us, which they did after about half an hour. (Initially we were told we’d have to wait two hours, which was totally unacceptable.)

At this point, I still had an IV as well as a catheter for urine, since I would not be able or allowed to sit or stand up until the following day. They brought Jade in and gave her to me. That night, and the next, Bladi slept on a sleeping bag on the hospital room couch, and Jade slept with me on the hospital bed.

I will say, the hospital’s accommodations were quite luxurious. The room was spacious, clean, and even had a large window facing outside which gave us natural light and allowed for ventilation with fresh air. The hospital food was decent… better than school cafeteria food, and they had a surprising array of vegetarian options. The nurses and staff were generally nice and professional; some were even friendly. One of the cleaning ladies, for example, struck up a conversation with me… (en espanol, of course) that went something like this:

“Is this your first child?”

“Yes.”

“I had eleven and raised eight.”

“Oh my god. I can’t imagine.”

“And no c-sections.”

“Wow, that’s impressive.”

“May god bless you.”

“Thank you.”

The next day, Monday, January 7, I was feeling good. The morphine and other drugs from the surgery were still circulating through my system. We had our first visitor: my friend Melissa whom I’d met in 2009 when we both started working at CAG (Colegio Americano de Guatemala); she still works there. She arrived around 4:00 when Jade was precisely one day old. She brought delicious bread from a local bakery and her camera. We had our camera too, but no way to upload and share the photos, since I had neither a computer nor an internet connection. So, Melissa kindly played photographer and later that night uploaded the photos to facebook, so that my parents could see their new baby granddaughter. Sweet friends around the world immediately began “liking” and leaving sweet messages of congratulations.

More visitors arrived: my former coworker Jenbli and her husband Julio, who both work in the high school at CAG, and Patricia, who had her baby with Dr. Sanjose six months ago, and who had given me his cell phone number the night before.

The next morning at 10 or so, I was cleared to leave the hospital. Unfortunately, it took them over two hours to get our bill ready. And, even more unfortunately, my debit card was rejected when I went to pay.

In order to leave the hospital in Guatemala, you have to pay in full. There is no bill-me-later as we have in the States.I tried calling the credit union (University Federal Credit Union) in Austin, to no avail. I called my dad in tears. Bladi was telling me to calm down, but the prospect of spending any more time in the hospital was very distressing, as I had my mind set on leaving and driving the 3+ hours back to Lake Atitlan that afternoon. It turned out that the credit union had deactivated my card because I’d recently requested a replacement debit card since the old one was about to expire. Luckily, because my dad showed up at the bank, explained the situation and then called me from his cell phone so I could speak to them, they reactivated the card and I was able to pay.

[Side note: the total cost of the c-section and all doctor and hospital services came out to about $4000 US dollars… without health insurance. Obviously more than I had expected to pay if we’d had a home birth as planned. Still, the bill was just a fraction of what it would have cost me in the USA.]

By the time we finally got on the road out of Guatemala City, it was almost four o’clock. Yeah, the trip in traffic and pollution and horrible Guatemalan drivers and Bladi driving for the first time in the city and me holding our delicate two-day old baby daughter who wanted to feed every hour… all this led to an extremely tense me during the trip home.

At last we arrived, after dark, and stopped so Bladi could pick up some pupusas for us to eat for dinner. By the time we got home, we were so relieved to be there that we ate and relished in being back in our own space and neglected to change Jade’s diaper for far too long. By the time we did, it was filled with sticky meconium (I will spare you all the gory details here, but google it if you must)… and we did not have the changing station ready. Amid the baby’s loud and heartbreaking cries, we somehow managed to change her and not strangle each other in the process. Looking back, it was actually pretty funny but at the time I was close to tears and thinking, “This is what the rest of my life is going to be like.” Dirty diapers and cluelessness.

~

Jade is now two weeks and one day old. Life is full of shit, a mountain of cloth diapers to wash and dry and fold and reuse and repeat the cycle, breastfeeding 24/7, and cherished catnaps. But we also have an adorable baby to love and nurture and protect. It is a time of extremes. She’s an angel when she’s sleeping or happily awake and a monstruito (little monster) when she’s hungry. Each day gets a tiny bit easier and more fun. My parents came a week ago and will be here until this weekend. They are glowing. I am glowing, though there are still many rough and stressful moments. Bladi is a great father, as I knew he would be. I could not be any luckier!

The Birth Saga, Part 1

After I passed the 41-week mark, my midwife Daniela started checking me every 48 hours. On Friday, January 4, I she suggested that I go in for a “biophysical profile,” which involves an ultrasound to check the baby’s heartbeat, arm and leg movements, amniotic fluid levels. We scheduled an appointment for 8:00 a.m. Saturday morning with a Guatemalan doctor right here in Panajachel.

His opinion was that the amniotic fluid was so low and the baby’s movements so weak that a normal, vaginal birth could cause fetal distress or death during labor. He suggested that I get a c-section that afternoon and gave us information for two hospitals in Solola, a larger town twenty minutes north of Pana. I was upset but of course willing to have the operation if necessary. The trouble is, many doctors (Guatemalan and otherwise) have a reputation for performing c-sections even when they are not absolutely necessary.

We went to Daniela’s house after the appointment and all agreed that it would be prudent to get a second opinion. So, after a chain of phone calls, I got an appointment across the lake at the Hospitalito Santiago for 5:00 that evening with an American doctor. We packed our bags, not knowing if it would be for one night or several, not knowing if we would return with a baby or a completely dfferent doctor’s opinion. I was still hoping a home birth would be possible but accepted that it was unlikely.

Because the last public boats back to Panajachel leave at 4:30, we checked into the Cielo Azul hotel and then headed to the Hospitalito. The U.S.-trained doctor did the same tests on me that had been done that morning. He was frank and told me that “back home” we would never jump right to a c-section just for low fluid but rather induce labor and then do a c-section if the induction didn’t go well. After assessing the various factors, that was his recommendation.

He also said that he couldn’t be sure, but he thought the baby was a GIRL. (At the July ultrasound we hadn’t been able to tell, and then we’d decided to let it be a surprise.) Unfortunately, the Hospitalito did not have enough doctors on staff to accommodate me should I need a c-section, due to the lack of an anesthesiologist.

Hence, my choices were to go to a possibly sketchy hospital in Solola with Spanish-speaking doctors I didn’t know (and my Spanish is good but my comprehension and speaking fluency tend to go by the wayside under high levels of stress)… or to go to the city which I hate but where I lived for three years. There, I had seen a highly reputable doctor named Dr. Sanjose twice for ultrasounds early in my pregnancy, in May and July. Of course, being Saturday night, he was not at the office, and I did not have his cell phone number.

Thankfully, I was able to track him down via my friend Patricia who’d had her baby boy with Dr. Sanjose six months back. I called his cell phone, he answered, I explained the situation, and he said he was available to deliver our baby the following day, Sunday, January 6.

So, early Sunday morning, we took a boat from Santiago back to Pana, went home and ate breakfast, then headed to Guatemala City in my car, along with Daniela who graciously offered to come along for moral support and to make sure I was comfortable with this third doctor’s opinion. After facing the typical, annoying traffic on the highways (including a detour in Chimaltenango due to a “baile de disfraces” – costume party – that was apparently taking place on the main street through town), we arrived in the city in the early afternoon. (It’s a 2.5 hour trip without traffic, but there is always traffic.)

Checked into the Hospital Universitario Esperanza and Dr. Sanjose examined my cervix. It went from one finger width to four centimeters dilation, which was a good sign. But when he did the ultrasound, he saw that my amniotic fluid level had gone down significantly since the ultrasounds from the day before. He explained thorougly, in both English and Spanish, why inducing the birth was too risky for the baby. So, a c-section it was.

247I went back to my hospital room with Bladi and Daniela and was crying and agitated. Not because I didn’t want a c-section, just because I was totally overwhelmed with emotions, primarily fear of complications, excitement at finally having the baby and general anxiety. My blood pressure went up, and everyone was telling me to calm down, which never helps.

I was given half an hour and I sobbed, “Okay, I’m going to meditate.” I sat on the hospital bed with my iPod and listened to “Across the Universe” by the Beatles and some other instrumental yoga music. I breathed. Mentally said “in” on the inhale and “out” on the exhale. I also did several minutes of alternate nostril breathing. Naturally, it worked. After 20 minutes or so, I was relatively tranquil. They rolled my bed to the elevator, switched me to an operating bed and began the preparations. It all happened so fast.

The anesthesiologist came in, and she was a hilarious Chapina with high-heels and high energy. She explained to me in English, everything as it was happening. They gave me an IV with morphine for the local anesthesia, as well as an epidural shot in my lower back. (Thankfully, I did not see the needle.) My legs started to tingle and I felt warm and drugged but still coherent. Bladi and Daniela were both allowed into the operating room with me.

There was a blue curtain placed right in front of my face, and they began the operation. I felt no pain, but after maybe 25 minutes when they were pulling the baby out, I felt a weird pressure on my abdomen. Apparently she was a little difficult to pull out, because her head wasn’t totally engaged on the pelvic floor, athough she had been head-down for several weeks. Later, they told me that the doctor called out “Jale duro!” (“Pull hard!”) as two of the other doctors pulled open the wound.

She emerged at 4:05 p.m. I heard her cries. They confirmed, “Es una nina.” I felt indescribable relief and joy. After a moment, they brought her around the curtain for me to see and kiss her. And that’s how Jade Ciranda entered the world. {To be continued…}

jade at birth