Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Placenta gnoshing and other items in my post-partum toolbox

Let me start by saying that ingesting Jacob's placenta was not on my list of things to do until I got my henna tattoo and the artist, Crystalene, who was also pregnant at the time, asked if I intended to encapsulate the placenta. I'd never heard of such a thing, and my first thought went to the time capsule that my elementary school put into the newly constructed portion of the school. I wondered if she was talking about saving it in a box as a keepsake and then opening it 100 years from now to see what life was like a century ago. My mind raced down that path momentarily and then it occurred to me that it might have something to do with having it put into capsules to be taken as a supplement. Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! We have a winner! No flies on me...

Of course I'd heard of people eating the placenta--who hasn't??--but prior to that discussion, I'd never taken the time to research why or to entertain the idea of doing so myself. I love a good alternative healthcare remedy though so I got online that night after putting Hannah to bed and read everything I could find on the subject. Like most cures that won't make the pharmaceutical companies big bucks, there isn't a lot of research/scientific study on the matter. It would be a difficult thing to study anyway since the success of ingesting it would have to be measured against what might have happened if it hadn't been ingested, and of course, there's no way of knowing what might have happened.

So, there's nothing sanctioned by the scientific community, but there are tons of women who, after suffering severe postpartum with one or more children, turned to placentophagy and found that it greatly improved their mood and energy level. It is also believed that placentophagy slows bleeding/hemorrhaging after birth, helps the uterus to contract to normal size, and increases milk supply.

I'm not gonna lie--there was a definite ick factor for me--but I'll do and eat just about anything if enough people tell me that it's healthy and there are no good reasons not to. I dug around for risks, but other than the ick factor, there aren't any. No possible harm can come from it if you're a healthy individual with no blood diseases. Some doctors say there's no reason to do so if you're a healthy person and eat a healthy diet, but what I found is that there's no reason not to give it a shot. Postpartum with Hannah wasn't terrible, but it was no Sunday stroll through the tulip gardens either, so I was game for trying anything that might help and couldn't hurt.

Encapsulating the placenta removes a lot of the ick factor because the organ is cooked and dried and then put into capsules that look like any other vitamin. Some of my reading suggested that cooking the placenta would remove some of the vital nutrients, which concerned me, so I decided to make a few smoothies with the raw placenta as well. The birth assistant (shown stretching out the umbilical cord in the photo below) made one for me shortly after giving birth, and then Eric made me another that evening and one more the following morning. I had no way of knowing it was in there since I couldn't taste it or see it.

The evening after Jacob was born, Carmen from The Nurturing Root came over to start the encapsulation process. Joel and I hung out with her while she worked, asking questions and snapping photos (Joel was the main photographer).

In our emails back and forth, Carmen had explained that her training is derived from Traditional Chinese Medicine which states that after childbirth, women should consume warm foods (soups and hot teas) to balance their qi, and that's why they steam the placenta. Of course, steaming it also has the advantage of ensuring it's sterile, but I'm ahead of myself. First she sterilized my kitchen (legally the encapsulation process must occur in the placenta-owner's home) and let us take some pics of the placenta in its original form (minus the three small hunks that went into smoothies).

While she worked, she explained more of the theory behind placentophagy: Apparently (I say apparently because I have not looked this up to verify it and know little to nothing about how our bodies work so I'm trusting Carmen on this one), our hypothalamus is normally responsible for producing our hormones. When we get pregnant, the placenta takes over this duty. After birthing the placenta, there is about a 3-week gap before the hypothalamus kicks back into gear. Taking the placenta pills is a way to carry your body through that gap in hormones. Makes sense to me!

Her next step was to use a wooden skewer to poke and drain the blood vessels until the placenta looked like this:

After the blood was removed, she steamed it. Apparently, my placenta, like my baby, is huge and had to be folded over in the pot whereas most fit in there quite nicely.

It shrivels up quite a bit as a result of the steaming.

She then sliced it thinly and laid it out on parchment paper in her dehydrator.

She also twirled up the umbilical cord and dried it for a keepsake for me. I have no idea what to do with a dried umbilical cord, but it's fun to talk to Hannah about.Carmen said that each umbilical cord is different and that what makes this one interesting is the little nodes--the darkened spots you see in the pic below. I had no idea that even something like an umbilical cord could be unique!! Human bodies are really quite amazing.

After cleaning up, Carmen left for the night. She returned the next morning and pulverized the dried strips in her Magic Bullet....

...then poured the resulting powder into capsules.

That placenta made 286 capsules which is a TON more than she usually gets, but I can't remember what her average is to tell you. It filled her biggest container and then filled a miniature mason jar about a quarter of the way up.

Instructions are to take two capsules three times a day for the first week and then to slowly drop down in the second and third weeks. I can't remember what to drop down to because I didn't drop. I figured I'd need more help so I have been taking two a day, three times a day until yesterday when I remembered that she also said to stop taking them if I get sick, and I woke up sick on Sunday so I went cold turkey today.

Whether or not it did all it proclaimed to do is hard to say, but I certainly feel like I had more energy and mental stability than last time, especially in that first week, though that could be as a result from the natural endorphins as well. I definitely have a ton of milk that came in fast, and I do think the bleeding slowed and then stopped much faster this time around than it did with Hannah.

Of course, this was not the only thing in my postpartum toolkit. Other things that have helped significantly over the past 3 weeks:

1. Amazing friends who brought us a ton of delicious food, including, Jeanne and Liam, Jess and Todd, Mary Cate and John, Amy and Nate, Dawn, Terrill...I hope I'm not forgetting anyone...

2. Amazing friends and family who have helped to keep Hannah entertained, specifically my mom and Amy who both came for days at a time and toted huge bags overflowing with various arts and crafts activities.

3.  Homeopathic arnica pilules prescribed by my naturopathic doctor. Arnica is believed to reduce swelling, bleeding, and bruising. I took it regularly until the bottle was gone.

4. An herbal postpartum tea that included nettles, oats, raspberry leaf, lemon balm, and hibiscus, orange, and lemon verbena for flavor (I love hibiscus so that was my request) made by Jenny, our local herbalist/apothecary.

5. An herbal bath soak with calendula, lavender, comfrey, raspberry, rose, salts, and marshmallow also made my Jenny. I had it made as a sitz bath, but since I remained intact, I didn't need to do a sitz bath and used it as a regular bath soak instead.

I loved feeling like I was bathing in a giant cup of tea, and it smelled awesome and was a super relaxing way to end every day, but it was a real pain to clean up. A lot of those flowers didn't go down the drain so I had to manually pick them up and throw them out. Maybe there exists some sort of giant tea ball that can be used in a bath?? That would be nice...

I think that's everything in my postpartum toolkit...I can definitely say that this time around has been easier, but I'm not going to lie--there have been tears. Big mama tears that come after more than an hour of little baby tears. Everyone said that the second would be easier, that he'd have to be, but I don't think he got that memo. He's shaping up to be every bit as spirited as his sister. Although I have the advantage this time around of knowing what's bothering him, there's often nothing I can do to fix what ails him. He has terrible reflux and is always barfing or needing to barf so I do what I can to prevent (nurse him upright, give him gripe water, burp him constantly, hold him on his belly, bicycle is legs, do baby massage on his belly) and soothe that, but it's still there.

He also fights sleep just like his sister did so even though I now know when he needs to sleep and try to get him to sleep before he's over exhausted, he still ends up awake, exhausted, and crying for nearly 2 hours every morning and evening. I try every trick I know to get him to sleep, and every time, a different trick works, or maybe none of the tricks work and he just eventually konks out regardless of what I'm doing. The only thing that has fairly consistent results is putting him in the Ergo carrier and walking around the house with a bounce in my step. All-in-all, it's completely and utterly exhausting and frustrating, more so because I've already been through this before and thought I'd paid my dues.

I have no idea how to summarize these super lengthy post other than to say that if I had it to do over again (and please know that I have NO intention of doing this again), I would do it all exactly the same. I definitely think my postpartum toolkit (in addition to the last year or so of therapy and the fact that I've gone through a lot of this before) made this post-baby period easier and happier, and I definitely healed faster physically. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Jacob's 2-week stats and a photo dump

Jacob is officially a little giant. He went in for his 2-week checkup today and is in the 99th percentile for everything. He weighed 11 pounds 7 ounces (almost a full pound more than his birth weight) and grew half an inch (23 inches now). I don't pay much attention to the head circumference numbers (his is 38.2 cm right now), but it's also in the 99th percentile. For comparison, Hannah was 8 pounds, 9 ounces and 21 inches long at her 2-week checkup. She was 11 pounds, 7 ounces and 23 and 3/4 inches long at her 2-month appointment...How on earth did I create such an enormous human being???

Since I have been lazy/busy trying to adjust to life with two kids and not posting pics, I'm going to catch up in one fell swoop.

I took these first two pics on the day he was born. Have I mentioned how much I loved being at home for this whole experience? So nice to just lay in my own bed all day where there's plenty of room for the whole family to snuggle.

This might have been day 2...

This was definitely day 2. Jeanne and Liam brought us over some yummy soup and muffins and Jeanne snapped a few pics that she shared with me.
Photo courtesy of Jeanne Stafford

Aunt Laura was also here on day 2, and she took and shared the next four photos.
Photo courtesy of Laura Mae Socks
Photo courtesy of Laura Mae Socks
Photo courtesy of Laura Mae Socks
Photo courtesy of Laura Mae Socks

Hannah is loving having and holding her baby brother, though she usually doesn't hold him for too long because he's always really hot and sweaty which makes her hot and sweaty, and she's not a fan of that.

This has been a very long, exhausting, and stressful day so I'm going to wrap this up now in spite of it being a pretty boring post. Hope you understand!

Monday, April 8, 2013

Baby brother Jacob's birth story

On Monday, at 40 weeks and 5 days, Jacob Romer finally decided that he'd outgrown his cozy little womb home and began his gradual descent into his out-of-utero existence. I woke up feeling like something was happening, but I couldn't put my finger on why I felt that way since the practice contractions were no more regular than ever.

It was Easter Monday so Hannah was out of school. We met Shannon and Atticus at the zoo, and I spent the morning waddling around, hoping that there was some truth to that bit about walking encouraging labor. My midwife came later that afternoon and said I was about 80% effaced and at least 3 cm dilated. Knowing how uncomfortably huge I was and eager to get things moving, she said she could gently stretch the cervix and sweep it slightly to remove a little of the mucus to see if a little nudge would serve as baby brother's eviction notice and motivate him to start packing his belongings.

My mom was convinced that I'd call her to come at 10:00 p.m., as soon as she went to bed, but I assured her that like his sister, this baby would have to wait until morning because I'm not into pulling all-nighters these days and would not entertain the idea of birth until after I'd had a good night of sleep. I went to bed that night around 10:30 still feeling the same, but I woke up at 11:30 feeling a little bit different. For the first time, the contractions seemed regular. I used my new Contraction Master app that Eric downloaded to my phone and was both relieved and dismayed to find that they had finally settled into a regular pattern and were coming every 8 to 10 minutes. Yay for not being pregnant any more, and boo for embarking on the birth journey with only an hour of sleep under my belt. Like most babies, this one was not terribly concerned about how much sleep his mama was getting.

Within half an hour of tracking, the surges were coming every 5 to 8 minutes. I texted my mom and my midwife and both got on the road, then I woke up Eric at 12:30 and asked him to fill the tub. I moved to the bed in the basement and put on a Hypnobirthing CD while I waited for the team to assemble and the tub to fill. Then I stripped down and hopped in!

Jill, our birth photographer, took almost 700 pictures and provided a few of the more modest ones for me to share here. 

Labor intensified around 3:00 a.m. and that's when the pain in my back started to get really, really unbearable. The midwife had been saying for weeks that he was posterior and to do plenty of pelvic rocks and lunges to encourage him to twist into position. She thought that his posterior position might also be why he hung around the womb so long. I did all those things daily, and then I did more of them in labor in spite of the fact that standing made the contractions and back pain way more intense and often left me gripping Eric in an effort to keep from falling over, but no matter what I did, Jacob's head kept bearing down on my lower back. Our birth assistant applied pressure which helped a bit.

As expected, natural labor was MUCH easier than pitocin-induced labor because there were breaks between the contractions; unfortunately, there were not breaks between the back pain. It lessened slightly between contractions, but it was always there. I wasn't prepared for that, and honestly, although I listened to a Hypnobirthing track every day, I usually fell asleep after the first few minutes. I'm excellent at deep relaxation, probably as a result of more than a decade of regular yoga practice, but I rarely practiced the hypnosis aspect.

Although minimal, the Hypnobirthing practice was still valuable and helpful, and Jill confirmed that, saying that when a contraction hit, she saw my face relax whereas most women she'd photographed scrunched up their face muscles. I remembered reading in Ina May Gaskin's Guide to Childbirth that the muscles in your mouth are connected to all sphincter muscles and that if you clench them, all sphincters clench so I purposely relaxed through my face and mouth. In the beginning I focused on relaxing my whole body, but as the back pain increased, so did my grip on whoever I could reach.

Like with Hannah, when I hit the transition stage, I moved to the bed. Pushing through that back pain was unreal, and pulling my legs back in the position my midwife suggested to give myself leverage made the pain so much worse, but I knew she was trying to help get him moving, and I wanted it to be over so I did the best I could.

It was about 7:00 a.m. by this time, and Hannah had woken up. She came downstairs in her pajamas with Grammy and the two stood at the foot of the bed the rest of the time. I talked to her between contractions and saw her smiling a lot. Grammy did a great job of making sure that Hannah knew that I was working really hard and that I would be just fine, that this was normal and how she came into the world.

I knew to only bear down when I was having a contraction and to go slowly if I wanted to avoid tearing. I wasn't successful in this aspect when delivering Hannah, but I was determined to succeed this time around, and succeed I did! I felt his head move out a little and then back in and repeated this a few times before his head was the whole way out. Unlike Hannah, the rest of him did not slide right out once the head was through. He was so big, that his shoulders lodged briefly, and we had to wait for the next contraction to get the rest of him free. (Jill got the coolest picture of this! It's not for everyone though, even though she blurred out everything surrounding the head, but let me know if you're interested, and I'll share.) Eric thought this was hysterical and demonstrated for me the funny faces Jacob was making with his mouth while half in and half out of my body.

We finished birthing and then I hugged him to my chest, and Eric laughed because this kid came out as long as my entire torso and totally huge. Guesses were made regarding just how big he was, but the weighing would have to wait!

Prior to birthing the placenta, Hannah crawled up on the bed to meet her new brother, then she got interested in the umbilical cord and got to feel it ("it's all squishy," she said, "and goes ba-boom, ba-boom.")

After the placenta was birthed and the cord cut, Jacob latched on and has been nursing pretty nonstop since. I've gone from not being able to zip coats over my belly to not being able to zip them over my boobs in a matter of a few short days.

After he'd nursed a bit, Hannah got to hold her new brother, and Jill captured it.

Daddy waited very patiently and then he got a turn too.

Then we weighed him...

My jaw dropped when Eric read 10 pounds, 8 ounces off the scale. How is that feasible?? My mom kept telling me he was huge because I was huge, but I kept hushing her and telling her that my body would not build a baby it couldn't birth. I did ask the midwife at one point if she thought he'd be gargantuan and she quickly replied, "No, not at all." After the fact she admitted that she figured he'd be at least 9 pounds and was hoping not much more. She also advised me to not have any bigger of a baby which cracked me up. I assured her that I have no intention of having any more babies after this one, and doubly so now that I know I have the ability to grow such huge babies.

After weighing him, the midwife said it's possible that he wasn't posterior at all but just packed into that very small space as best as possible and was destined to bear down on my back like that due to his enormous size.

Here's the little--er, big--guy after being weighed and inspected.

Birthing at home was amazing on so many levels, and I am so happy that we prioritized it and made it happen. Eric kept saying, "you did it babe! You did it the way you wanted!" And he's right, except for the part about the insane back pain and the gigantic baby...But I lived, and although I'm pretty darn sore, I feel great mentally and emotionally--much more clear-headed than after having Hannah. I remember operating on auto-pilot after Hannah and walking around in a daze, but I have great mental clarity this time around. There were so many different variables between the two births to be able to say with certainty whether one or another thing is responsible or it's a combination of all, but I'm sure that not having a Pitocin hangover is a huge part of it and being able to relax in the comfort of my own home is another huge part. Ingesting the placenta is probably also a big part of it, but that's another blog post altogether.

P.S. Here's a link to Hannah's birth story if you want to know why I had to go the Pitocin route the first time around.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Erasable family photos

Hannah figured out how to draw stick people sometime in the last month or two, and since then, one of her new favorite this drawing family photos. This morning while I made oatmeal, she drew the picture below. She's the blue one in the middle, Amy is the pink one on the right, I'm the green one on the left, and daddy is the blue one floating above the others. Since she ran out of space before drawing daddy, she decided we would have to carry him.

She drew the picture below last night. She's the yellow one in the middle, I'm the purple one on the right, and daddy is the blue one on the left. We are at a fancy party. Those are balloons at the top, and that's a cake sitting between mine and Hannah's feet. 

I love these pics.