Book review: Hannah, Delivered by Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew

NOTE: I was given an advance copy of the book Hannah, Delivered (affiliate link) in exchange for my honest opinion. Review and opinions below are my own.

"There's three things to learn about labor. It's work. It hurts a lot. And you can do it." - Hannah, Delivered by Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew

When I got an email from a publisher with the subject line “Midwife Fiction”, you know that I was in! I am a bit of a natural birth junkie. I just love to hear how women learn to trust their bodies and how they discover their strength through childbirth. I actually visited my midwife just last week for my annual checkup and fell in love again with the entire practice. The old Victorian house, the cloth robe and cover, the corner of the exam room filled with toys for the kids, the comfy chairs I sat in while we chatted, with the sunlight streaming in the huge windows…So far removed from what I’ve heard about OB/GYN offices. I just love sharing the stories of my first natural birth and my second natural birth.

The mind-body connection espoused by midwifery is not so far removed from what we practice in yoga. The book that I was given a chance to read definitely delivered (if you will excuse the pun) on that reality. The book is called Hannah, Delivered by Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew (affiliate link) and it is about a young woman on her journey to become a midwife. She has built a safe, secure life for herself working in an administrative position at a hospital and one evening is called to assist in a birth. She accidentally ends up catching the baby and BAM! catches the midwifery bug. She will have to leave everything she knows: her job, her relationship, her state, and her security to train as a midwife, only to return to practice in a town where midwifery is only barely legal. Is that how this really happens? BAM!, just like that? To a woman who has never been a mother herself? I am not sure. I didn’t know much about birth, myself, until I read the book Birth: The Surprising History of How We Are Born by Tina Cassidy (affiliate link) almost 10 years ago. Shortly after, I also read Taking Charge Of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler (affiliate link). To say those two books shook up my idea of what my body was capable of and how our society has treated women would be an understatement. Some of these same injustices, mistrust, and misinformation are touched on in Hannah, Delivered. It is plausible that activism is a response to correct a wrong. But more importantly, Hannah’s journey to midwifery is a journey that has a goal of creating what is right: assisting women in the positive aspects of birth and allowing them to be free. The book is about how Hannah delivers herself from her old ideas of what she “should” be or isn’t, and allows herself to be born into what she is meant to be. She struggles with her place in the world as well as her own spirituality and the spirituality of her parents. It’s definitely not a Christian book, as the main character remains agnostic throughout the book. But I did not feel uncomfortable with it as a Christian, either. The Christ-followers in the book were presented in a positive and loving way.

The characters in the book were believable and I found myself caring what happened to them. There was enough of a twist for me to wonder what was going to happen, but enough of a reassurance that I didn’t feel the need to skip to the end to keep from getting anxious (not that I ever do that…) . I also found the end satisfying, unlike some of our recent Book Club books. I would happily recommend this book to anyone who enjoys good fiction, whether or not you are a natural birth junkie.

Hannah, Delivered by Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew

So if you’re getting ready to build your summer book list, add Hannah, Delivered — and let me know what you think!

Guest Post: What is embryo adoption?

What Is Embryo Adoption?

When I found out that my friend Merritt was raising money for her embryo adoption, I had no idea what that even meant. But when I found out, I thought it sounded like such a great idea for everyone involved. I asked her to do this guest post with the original idea of helping her raise the money they will need for the first stage of the adoption, but they’ve met that goal! However, I still really want to a) answer the question “What is embryo adoption” for all of you who, like me, didn’t know, and b) put her story out there because they are not finished with the financial part of building their family! There are still many other steps for her and her husband, Todd, to take and I’d love for you to follow their story going forward so that you’ll have the chance to participate too, if you choose. Here’s Merritt!

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Hi! My name is Merritt! When Jenny heard about our need to raise nearly $10,000 for our embryo adoption, she wanted to help! She offered her little piece of the blogosphere so I could share our story and ask for your assistance in spreading the word about our fundraiser.

But wait! {insert record-scratch-sound here} In just under a week we’ve surpassed our goal! Yes, that’s right, our adoption is funded! So, I’m not here to ask for your money, instead, I want to share the fascinating journey toward embryo adoption, which will—hopefully—grow our little family of two into something more.

First of all, you’re probably asking, what is embryo adoption anyway?

An embryo adoption is a legal transaction. A family chooses to donate their frozen embryos to an adoptive couple, the embryo(s) will be implanted in the wife’s uterus and she will have the opportunity to become pregnant. When the baby is born, he or she is legally the child of the adoptive couple.

Who would choose embryo adoption?

Embryo adoption can be a source of hope for couples who have been unable to conceive through natural means or who have had several failed infertility treatments.

Where do the embryos come from?

Embryos are not created for the purpose of adoption. Instead, they are available because couples who have struggled with infertility have pursued IVF (in vitro fertilization) treatments. The couple’s doctor will harvest and fertilize several embryos for their treatments. Oftentimes more eggs are harvested and fertilized than are needed for one IVF cycle. Those embryos are frozen until they are needed for subsequent treatments. Our agency, Nightlight, calls those little babies “Snowflakes®.” There are currently 600,000 embryos in frozen storage, but not all of them are available for adoption.

How does embryo adoption benefit the genetic parents?

When the couple is finished growing their family (or if they run out of funds or time to continue fertility treatments), they have four options for their remaining embryos:

  1. Thaw & discard (destroys the embryos)
  2. Donate to science (destroys the embryos)
  3. Do nothing (embryos remain frozen indefinitely, but the family continues to pay storage fees)
  4. Donate for adoption (saves lives and gives hope to a family)

Couples can chose to give their children the gift of life through adoption by a family like ours. We understand their decision is not an easy one; it’s truly a sacrificial choice to allow another family to give birth to and raise their genetic children.

Our Story

Although we married in our late 30s, it was still hard to imagine we’d have trouble conceiving. We’re both pretty healthy, but after a year and a half of dedicated “trying” a fertility specialist told us we had a miniscule chance of conceiving on our own.

I felt a great deal of pressure to pursue infertility treatments in an “everybody’s doing it” kind of way. But we knew we weren’t prepared for the costs (physical and financial) of IVF. We were just beginning to test how my body would respond to fertility drugs when I got pregnant in March 2012. However, a few weeks later we lost our baby. We were devastated. After our miscarriage I couldn’t imagine going back to the doctor for more pokes, prods, and tests that would put us back on that roller coaster.

By January 2013, I had begun seriously looking into adoption. That’s when we learned about embryo adoption. I’d really been struggling with the fact that I might never experience pregnancy, childbirth or have the chance to breastfeed our baby. Those things always seemed like a given to me, even when I was a young girl. In addition, my husband and I are believe life begins at conception, meaning all those little frozen Snowflakes are babies just waiting to be born. We believe God created each one of them individually, gave them a soul and a hope for their future. And we are grateful to have the opportunity to take part in giving them life and a loving family.

Although we investigated domestic adoption (adopting from a birthmother in the U.S.) and international adoption (adopting an orphan from overseas), embryo adoption is often more affordable and has a shorter wait time. Our hope is to be matched with a donor family by the end of the year.

If that donor family is interested in maintaining some sort of relationship with their genetic children once those babies are born into our family, we have already agreed that our kids can meet them and their siblings as long as it’s a healthy arrangement for everyone involved.

After so many painful years of waiting to be married and then trying to get, some days it’s hard to imagine we’ll ever have children running around our home. But we have faith that our prayers will be answered in one way or another.

If you’re a praying person, we’d love your prayers for us and our hoped-for-family. You can watch a few videos of us on our Pure Charity fundraising page. Details and progress of our adoption can be found on our blog, On Becoming Parents, or check out our newlywed blog to read our love story. If I can answer any questions about our experience, please feel free to reach out to me on Twitter @merritto.

My past: my fitness journey (Part I)

Me doing yoga

My real health and fitness journey started somewhere around 2001 or 2002 when I first moved to Dallas from East Texas. I was single, starting my career, and searching for answers about life and love in general. I had a lot on my mind — a lot of internal demons to face and spiritual questions to answer. I trusted very few people. I was slowly starting to give up some lifestyle practices and relationships that had occupied most of my time and energy for years. What to replace these things with in my life? Like a lot of young, single professionals, I bought a gym membership. It changed my life.

I wasn’t overweight, but stress, poor eating, binge drinking and other lifestyle habits had drained my energy significantly. I now had huge pockets of time to plant myself on the elliptical machine and read through books that were formerly daunting like “Knowing God” by J.I. Packer. Sometimes I could only read a few sentences at a time and then spend the next 45 minutes on the machine processing what I read. I would pray. I would think.

One week I decided to drop in on the gym’s Power Yoga class. I found a huge blessing there in the form of a yoga instructor named Delia. Namaste to you, Delia, wherever you are. She was the perfect balance of challenge and down-to-earth acceptance for me. She was the first person I ever heard advise me to “trust my body” when going into a pose. She taught me how to breathe relaxation down my body, something that served me for years during both my natural childbirth experiences. No one had ever suggested that I do those things, and they were life changing. Here is what those two small things mean to me.

Trust your body. Our bodies are so amazing. If you are really in tune with how your body feels at its optimum and you spend time just sitting still to listen to it each day, you will know far before you start experiencing symptoms that you are fighting off an illness. You can tell if you need more sleep. You can sense your own tension and do something to treat it. The key to trusting your body is to trust it enough to obey what it is telling you. If it tells you that you need more sleep, you do. Make room in your schedule. Cancel something. Get a sitter. Have a bath. This practice serves me greatly with the added tool of essential oils, because the oils can facilitate the healing that my body is requesting. Listening to your body is also very important in parenting to supply you with the energy that you need, even when you are a “slightly older” parent like I am.

Breathe. We breathe automatically, right, so what’s the big deal? I knew from years of singing in choirs and individually that the way we breathe makes a huge difference. The kind of breathing that we do when we are stressed is a shallow, gasping type of breath. It supplies oxygen at the bare minimum. The most effective and supportive type of breath is the deep breath that comes from your stomach and lifts the diaphragm. In yoga, there is also the cleansing ujjayi breath which goes in and out of the nose with force. Just taking the time to breathe deeply can make such a big difference in your serenity. I like to do deep breathing and pray. I have a very excitable nature and I honestly believe that knowing how to breathe this way has allowed me to step back and surrender more of my natural tendency to control.

Those years were the start of my journey to fitness. As I listened to my body more and more, I realized that I felt sick after eating some supposedly healthy foods. Meat was something that consistently made me feel slow and heavy, and left a kind of pit in my stomach, so I became a lacto-ovo-pescatarian (a vegetarian who eats eggs, milk, and fish) in 2003 and have been since.

I expanded my healthy activities to rollerblading on the nearby Katy trail, cycling with my boyfriend-and-then-husband, and lots and lots of walking and more yoga during my pregnancies. As you might have noticed, my fitness journey has had very little, if anything, to do with my weight. It’s true that I’ve maintained a pretty steady weight for the last 10 years, although my muscle tone levels have come and gone. But for me, my journey is truly more about the mind than the body.

That is the past of my fitness journey, Part 1. I’ll share Part 2 — what’s going on now — at a later time, if you are still interested. If you are, please let me know!

This Year at BlogHer 2011

San Diego
I’ve been trying to figure out how to sum up the experience that was BlogHer 2011. Even though I had a baby with me the whole time and couldn’t participate in a lot of the parties at night, this year was even more amazing than last year! I didn’t take very many pictures, and I am sorry about that. I’ll post a few today and more later.

This year I felt like I knew a lot more bloggers, mostly thanks to relationships through Twitter! I got to meet several awesome ladies in real life who I been talking to on Twitter for months. It was so fun!

Me and Galit!!
Galit Breen of These Little Waves and me!

This year I did a lot of nursing in public! Because Little Lady would get fussy in sessions that I was supposed to be live-tweeting, I had to pretty much expose myself to keep her quiet while I tweeted with my free hand. Did I feel self-conscious about NIP? Not at all. I was much more self-conscious about someone finding out that I had a bottle in my room to mix 2 ounces of formula with her rice cereal every night (for the reflux).

This year I was paid to live-tweet and later write blog posts for Blue Volcano Media, so I was able to focus on the content of the sessions and extrapolate the most meaningful parts more easily.

This year I missed Voices of the Year because my daughter needed her rice cereal and was being extremely fussy, which really made me sad. Voices of the Year is what reminds us all of why we blog, so I’m looking forward to finding it on the podcast later and listening.

This year Ricki Lake spoke at the closing keynote about the power of social media in her fundraising for More Business of Being Born. Needless to say, she’s a hero to the birthing community for birth junkies like myself. I GOT TO MEET HER! She is so relational that she offered to meet and talk to anyone who came to the tequila bar to meet up with her, so I did. I am sure I looked like a slobbering idiot, “I have had 2 births in a birth center, I’ve never had an OB/GYN, and you are my hero”. Doh. But she was nice enough to take this picture with me where she looks totally amazing and I look kinda… stunned:
Me and Ricki Lake!!
This year there was a flash mob at the end of lunch on Friday, which I thought was amazing but then someone on Twitter said it was “so passe” and I felt like a n00b. But, here it is anyway:

{video here}

Overall, another amazing, overwhelming, encouraging, and inspiring event. So many blog posts were swirling in my head throughout the whole time! I hope I can remember them all. I will be blogging more about other aspects of BlogHer later, stay tuned!

Little Lady’s Natural Birth Story

Don’t forget, I’ll be having guest posts starting on Thursday, February 24, during the time I’m out taking care of our new little girl!

Be sure to check back or subscribe in a reader to receive the posts from some of my favorite bloggers as guests.

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Little Lady’s Birth Center birth story

I had the day off work on Friday. First, we had our regularly scheduled prenatal exam and then my plan for the day was to go get pedicure and massage. At the appointment, I was 4cm dilated and about 50% effaced, which is normal for my body considering the amount of prelabor I have had for weeks in both my pregnancies. Unfortunately, when I got to my spa appointment, the massage therapist cancelled last-minute (while I was at the spa), so I had only a pedicure and a brief neck massage. I had not slept well the night before – typical pregnancy insomnia had me up at 4:30 AM and could not go back to sleep after that.

While I was getting the neck massage at the end of the appointment around 3PM, I had a contraction that felt very real. I ignored it, but headed home instead of doing errands, so I could take a nap. I kept having fairly persistent contractions from that point on, although not always very strong and not evenly spaced. When I got home, I got into the bath in order to slow the contractions down or make them go away, so that I could sleep. I laid down for a little over an hour after the bath, but kept having contractions that woke me up on a regular basis and nausea.

When Christian got home at 6 I did not feel great due the nausea and the lack of sleep and the contractions and cramping that would not go away. We had leftovers for dinner and put Asher to bed. I was starting to have to breathe through the contractions and they were about 5 minutes apart, lasting 1 minute. Christian was working on our labor playlist on the computer, even though we still didn’t think I was actually in labor.

If it was labor, I did not want to go into it feeling so tired and nauseated, so I poured another bath and Christian got me a glass of wine. I wasn’t able to finish the wine due to the nausea and I finally decided we might need to call the Beverly, the midwife on call, who had also been the midwife who had seen me at my appointment earlier that day. I told her that I was in the bath trying to make the contractions stop and she said I was welcome to try that for another 15 minutes or so and then call her back because what I was describing sounded like labor to her and she knew how dilated and effaced I had been earlier in the day. I got out of the tub after about 15 minutes and started shaking uncontrollably. Being in the tub had only slowed the contractions a little, a few had breaks of 7 minutes instead of 5. I had Christian call Beverly back and she said we should go ahead and come in. I had been texting our nanny and told her to go ahead and come over – the plan was for her to spend the night at our house, Asher was already asleep.

We got our stuff packed up and the nanny arrived. While I was talking to her I had another break in the pattern of the contractions (I wasn’t timing them at that point either), but they came back fully and regularly in the car. We left the house around 10:40 and got to the birth center around 11PM. I was still bummed about having gotten no sleep and not convinced this was “real” labor.

When Beverly checked me, I was still only 4cm, which was disappointing after having annoying contractions all day. I was around 100% effaced, though, and Beverly said the only reason I wasn’t more dilated was probably because my bag of waters was still intact and the baby’s head wasn’t low enough to press on the cervix and cause further dilation yet. She said if we wanted she could break the bag of waters and let the head go down, or we could just do a lot of power walking and  work on positions that angled the baby down onto the cervix. We decided on the walking so we walked around the park for quite a while. At one point there was a gush of fluid (I was, of course, wearing my Depends, which are MY BEST FRIEND), but when tested, it was not amniotic fluid. I think the movement of the baby and the contractions made me pee myself a little which is embarrassing. Especially since it happened more than once!

Squatting into a contraction inside the birth center

After we walked for a while the contractions got harder but I was still only dilated to a 5. We went back outside with instructions to stop every 3 contractions and have me squat leaning backwards onto Christian while the contraction was happening. This is definitely the most flattering position EVER, and I was doing it at 2AM in a public park gazebo wearing a birthing gown.

It occurred to me while we were walking that I needed to mentally accept that I would be having the baby that night. I am a big believer in Ina May‘s theory that what goes on inside your head has a huge impact on the progress of your labor, and it was my belief that my refusal to accept the idea that I was really in labor might be hindering my further dilation.

The next time when we went back inside from the park to be checked, I was 7cm, which was better. I was also feeling very tired, I had been awake almost 24 hours at that point and the contractions were painful and close. We got the go-ahead for me to keep laboring in the tub. I love the tub. I went through transition in the tub during Little Sir’s birth and this birth was the same. I tried very hard not to tense up during transition because I was so focused on trying to make sure my cervix opened more.

Cherie showed up and checked me around 2:45 AM, I think, and I was 8 cm. I think the check caused my water to break because something popped and I started losing my mucus plug. My vocalizations changed from humming to more like long grunting and I started feeling pressure to push.

I had the antibiotics hooked up to my port at that time because it was 3AM and had been 4 hours since the last time (I was Group B Strep positive again), but I needed to get out of the tub so I could get into a pushing position. Moving around while needing to push and hooked up to an IV is just the most fun thing EVER. I left the tub at 3:15 AM.

I only pushed on the bed post through maybe one contraction and the head started crowning. I felt the need to keep pushing even when I didn’t have a contraction. We moved up to the bed to deliver and, oh, I HATE moving mid-push, I remember I hated it last time too. It is really difficult to move through that kind of pain and I thought I couldn’t do it! While things were being adjusted on the bed, I was on my hands and knees between contractions and that was a huge momentary relief.

When the next contraction came, I was in position on the bed and ready to go. I was fully dilated so there would not be any trouble delivering the head without a need for anyone cutting anything. I was really focusing on using my diaphragm to push. I had recently spoken to our Bradley instructor about pushing, since I felt I didn’t do it correctly with Little Sir and it wasn’t terribly effective. This time it was more effective – again, I felt like pushing even without a contraction so I did that too. Overall, the pushing time was probably around 10 minutes total and then our little girl was born at 3:25 AM! When she came out, she had her hand over her nose, so her elbow was folded and it did cause a little tear when it came out, but it wasn’t bad – I didn’t need stitches.

Starting to come out…

She was covered in vernix and HAIR! To us, she looked almost exactly like Little Sir did in his first few minutes of life. Christian “caught” her just like he caught Little Sir, and put her on my chest where she stayed for over an hour. She nursed perfectly for about 45 minutes shortly after the cord was cut.

Then, after the birth, Christian got in the tub with her for a LeBoyer bath while I ate some food and rested.

We are so excited to welcome the newest member of our family!