Thursday, June 20, 2013

You Live Here: My Journey Through Birth Trauma

After finishing the entire series of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Malamute and I tried watching Deep Space Nine. Sorry to all of you DS9 fans who might be reading this blog, but we only made it through the first three episodes and then moved on to Voyager. But that means we saw the episode where Benjamin Sisko meets the interdimensional beings who keep bringing him to the moment that his wife died and say, "But you live here". I've come to realize just how accurate a representation that is for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

I didn't think I had experienced birth trauma until I started reading a book called The Gift of Giving Life that had an entire essay on it. I had a natural birth in a birthing suite with Duckling. I labored in a hot tub for part of the time and everything. Birth trauma happens to women who have unexpected c-sections, premature babies or horrible inductions. Not me.

After my positive pregnancy test with Snugglebutton though, a strange thing started to happen. I kept picturing myself in that moment when Duckling came out with his back open. I felt panicked. My chest tightened and lost my breath. I stayed up nights worrying about this baby having to face the NICU again, even though chances of that were about 1 in 100. I lost my appetite and had difficulty eating. I love being a mother, I love pregnancy, even labor is a challenge I looked forward to, but try as I might to be rational, I couldn't escape the fact that whenever I pictured another child emerging from my body, the only thing I could picture was that open back and the intense fear of some how losing my baby. I was living in that moment.

I continued to deny to myself that I had a problem. But as my due date loomed, I couldn't deny any longer that I was panicked about that moment of birth. I'd be hiking and people would ask me about my due date and say, "You're getting close! I'll bet you can't wait to be done!" and all I could think of was how badly I wanted this baby to stay inside of me forever so we could all be safe.

I think the turning point came when my husband told me that I needed to picture things turning out positively no matter what. Over the next week I did just that and though I still felt fear as I went into labor, I was no longer panicked.

My given name means victory, but I've never felt truly victorious until that moment when I saw my second child for the first time and saw that his back was fine. And not only was his back fine, he was perfectly pink and breathing beautifully. I had done it. I had faced that moment and it had come out just as I had hoped.

I remember reading a Readers' Digest article about a woman who had gotten disfiguring burns on her face as a child from a house fire. She ended up dating a firefighter who then arranged for her to face her fear by doing a firefighter training exercise. I've heard of veterans who go to shooting ranges to take away the emotional charge associated with gun fire and other loud noises. Since facing that moment of seeing my second baby for the first time, the panic associated with that moment I had been stuck in has left me. In its place I have felt a calm acceptance of that moment I realized I had a special needs child. But just because my first birth turned out that way, didn't mean that my second would. If I had never gotten back in the game, I never would have known for sure and that fear would have ruled me.

Monday, June 17, 2013

The Upside of Blaming Myself

People sometimes ask what caused Duckling's spina bifida. The truth is that all research shows that it tends to be a combination of genes and nutritional deficiencies. And then I freely admit that I wasn't eating nutritiously when Duckling was conceived. I did start taking a multivitamin, but depending on the conception date, it may not have been in time to prevent it. Usually, people tell me not to blame myself. I've been thinking about this lately and I've actually decided that I prefer to own this.

It's funny, but out of all the trauma and problems associated with the spina bifda, the fact that I probably had a hand in it has been one of the easier ones to deal with. I guess that's because I always felt that having a disability wasn't the end of the world for him and he could still have a happy and fulfilling life with it. The other reason is simply that it is there and there is nothing I can do to take it back now. If I keep beating myself up over the fact that his neural tube never sealed up fully, I'll never be able to help him thrive in the present.

You see, if I decide to think of spina bifida as a thing just happens, that I had no control over, then I become powerless. If I have no control over it, then I can avoid blaming myself, but the rules of the game are that I can do nothing to prevent it from happening again. If I own that spina bifida and embrace my role in it, then I am free to deal with the present and prevent it from happening again. When Snugglebutton was conceived, I was eating about 1,000-4,000 mcg of folate a day from legumes, greens, nuts and fruits. It seems to have worked since he came out just fine. (Yes, Baby #2 is going to go by Snugglebutton on this blog for now. It's sappy, but those of you who have met him know he is like a tiny little bundle of cuddles, so it fits.)

But if I had never made the decision to own my part in Duckling's spina bifida, I never would have been free to find the answers I needed to prevent it from happening again and act on them. And so, I willingly and happily blame accept that I had a role in my son's birth defect.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

If You're Pregnant, You'll Want This Post-Partum!!!!

I remember the first time I read about after pains. I was reading Susun Weed's Wise Woman Herbal for the Childbearing Year. I came to the part about remedies for after pains, and I thought to myself, "You mean I'm going to keep having contractions after the baby is born this time?!" I told myself that it couldn't be that bad. Oh the naiveté...

As some of you out there know, I gave birth to my second baby about a week ago, and I can now tell you that after pains are extremely painful. For the first day or so, the after pains kicked my butt. I kept thinking, "How do you c-sections mom do this? After pains and surgery recovery?! Ow, ow ow!" I didn't have any of the herbs around that Susun Weed recommends. So I hopped online before taking one of my naps though and found out that you can use helichrysum and lavender essential oils to help the uterus contract postpartum. I had both of them on hand and mixed 1 drop helichrysum and 3 drops lavender and rubbed it on my lower back and did the same for my abdomen. Lo and behold, the after pains started to decrease! 

By about day four postpartum, the after pains were gone. The other thing I found that you can do with helichrysum oil is use it to heal stitches and tears to the perineum and reduce postpartum bleeding. This time, I had some minor tearing. Nothing that needed suturing, but I was feeling a bit uncomfortable. Oh. My. Goodness. You would not believe how amazing helichrysm is for tears. It's like instant relief! Put a few drops on a pad. Where was this stuff when I was sitting on stitches in the NICU with my first?! It's nice and cooling. By day six, I was mostly healed up and no longer sensitive. 

If you're pregnant or know someone who is, I really can't recommend helichrysum oil enough for the recovery period. It has made a huge difference in my postpartum recovery the second time around.

Update December 2015: You can get helichrysum essential oil through DoTerra or Young Living Essential Oils representative. I also recommend Butterfly Express, Mountain Rose and Aura Cacia brands.  I have used both their brands and like them. I personally recommend buying off of Amazon for Butterfly Express. Butterfly Express was the particular brand I used postpartum, and I was obviously very happy with the results. =) After several difficulties using the ordering system from BE, I recommend saving yourself some hassle and buying off Amazon. The price differential isn't that significant, but it's sooooo much easier ordering BE's oils off Amazon than directly from their store. I also recommend Aura Cacia as another brand to try.

One thing to note about Aura Cacia is that they carry some pre-blended oils. These come already diluted with a carrier oil. I haven't tried these and I don't know what they would be like for after pains or tear relief. I like to dilute my own oils, personally. But if you're in a pinch and this is all you can find quickly, it might be worth a try. One of the nice things about Aura Cacia's oils is that they are often sold in local, regional and national health foods stores like Sprouts and Whole Foods, though the particular oils they stock can vary. If you need an essential oil immediately, you can often buy Aura Cacia oils with a quick trip to the store. (Been there, done that.) You can also buy all different brands online at Amazon. Here are some for comparison.

I have also had great experiences with Mountain Rose's essential oils. They don't carry many blends, but in my opinion, they are a great place to get singles like helichrysum. You'll note that their helichrysum is designated with the botanical name Helichrysum italicum while Butterfly Express' is designated by the botanical name Helichrysum angustifolium. Based on some research, it seems that the two names are synonyms and that they both have very similar healing properties. Here is a link to Mountain Rose's helichrysum single.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

But a GA Said...

Yeah, I've been gone for a while. Things got kind of crazy busy. They're still pretty crazy busy, but I think I might be back every so often. I miss blogging.

Something that has been weighing on my mind lately is the assertion that I have heard many a Mormon make that if a General Authority said/did it, that it must be the Lord's revealed truth for everything and everyone. Especially health matters. (Remember my post on what the American medical community could do to improve the abysmal rate of maternal and fetal death in the U.S.? One response I got on the post was that hospital birth was God's will because the General Authorities have said things in support of the mainstream medical establishment.) I believe the assumption behind this sort of argument is that General Authorities more or less have a direct line to God for every detail of life and that if we simply do whatever they do, we will be doing God's will. I believe a short look at Church history and doctrine as well as a little common sense should point to the idea that God would much rather we solve our own problems instead of expecting Church leaders to spoon feed us answers.

First of all, General Authorities are called as prophets, seers and revelators and the Lord has said that any prophet will be removed before he is allowed to lead the Church astray, but this doesn't mean that they don't have their own opinions, decisions, and even biases about how to conduct affairs in their personal lives or that they don't express their own personal thoughts and opinions. (I love President Hinckley's cheerful comment as to whether the the Brethren ever had arguments about Church policy: "Oh we never have arguments. We have spirited discussions!")

Even General Authorities have been known to make errors in judgement regarding things such as business affairs (the Kirtland Safety Society), and even on the reasons behind certain revelations on Church policies (a litany of pre-1978 quotes on blacks and the priesthood). The Old Testament tells of a Moses who had trouble delegating and sometimes spent too much time dealing with every problem the Israelites brought to him, sometimes straining his family life. Near the end of his life, Brigham Young wanted certain things included in the temple ceremony that the other members of the Quorum of the Twelve felt were Brigham Young's own thoughts and did not constitute revelation and had no place in the temple ceremony and thus were left out.

Obviously, being a General Authority is by no means some seal of perfection of understanding. I love this quote from Elder Bruce R. McConkie about pre-1978 speculation about blacks and the priesthood by General Authorities:

"All I can say to that is that it is time disbelieving people repented and got in line and believed in a living, modern prophet. Forget everything that I have said, or what President Brigham Young or President George Q. Cannon or whomsoever has said in days past that is contrary to the present revelation. We spoke with a limited understanding and without the light and knowledge that now has come into the world. We get our truth and our light line upon line and precept upon precept. We have now had added a new flood of intelligence and light on this particular subject, and it erases all the darkness, and all the views and all the thoughts of the past. They don't matter any more. It doesn't make a particle of difference what anybody ever said about the Negro matter before the first day of June of this year [1978]. It is a new day and a new arrangement, and the Lord has now given the revelation that sheds light out into the world on this subject."

I actually love the idea that everything a GA says or does is not God's personal opinion. The more I've lived, the more important the idea of agency has become. More wrong has been done in the world in the name of making sure that people do the "right thing" than has ever occurred from allowing people to choose to do good. If everything the General Authorities did and said was "doctrine" it would mean they're not learning and progressing and having to figure out their own personal lives. They would be like Borg drones, without free will, plugged into a collective and not progressing. Gratefully, we have prophets, not puppets, who speak for the Lord when they are acting in their calling as prophets, seers and revelators, but are left to make their own decisions about personal matters and even express their own opinions. I love the Church's statement on what constitutes doctrine

Over the past few years of I've had to deal with some of the most difficult experiences of my life and I've come to the conclusion that being a Latter Day Saint has never really been about lock-stepping into dogma or fulfilling a checklist. Rather, I've come to see it as an exciting search for truth. Truth is, after all, at the heart of eternal progression and the essence of intelligence, which is said to be the glory of God. Time and again, the scriptures carry examples of the Lord challenging His prophets to seek out answers for themselves and then consult Him. This, I believe is the example we are meant to follow. 

Searching for truth isn't nearly as easy as relying on someone else's actions or thoughts to order one's own life, but I have found it to be far more rewarding. My own personal search for truth on a number of different subjects has led me to make several wise decisions that earlier in my life I had scoffed at. Searching for truth means opening ourselves to new ideas and questioning long-held assumptions and ultimately standing apart from the world. But it's a peaceful and gratifying way to live. Whatever questions we have in life, as long as we earnestly desire and seek after truth, I believe that we need never be afraid of what answers may come.