Stuffing My Face Mindfully

Stuffing My Face Mindfully

I am hungry all the time.

Okay that’s not entirely true. When my mouth is full of food I’m okay, as well as directly after (most) meals. A few minutes later I have a short window during which I’m just peckish, and then BAM! Starving again.

So what’s a girl to do, right? I’m pregnant, gotta eat. Especially after the first trimester – then if I let the peckish feeling go on for more than about 5 seconds I’d be rewarded with instant nausea. Gotta eat.

But I just realized – I’ve been eating crap, basically all the time. Somewhere during this emotional rollercoaster of the postpartum period, going back to work full-time, getting pregnant then miscarrying, getting pregnant again and having to terminate that one, and then this current pregnancy, I got stuck in the comfort food zone. And understandably so. I was just so focused on “taking care” of myself – being kind and giving myself a break – that I forgot about other way to take care of myself with food.

Nourishing my body.

My decision a couple of weeks ago to put my vegetarianism on hold for health reasons was the trigger. As I went through ways to get the most out of a few servings of meat a week – not eating meat with dairy and upping my veggie intake for example – I finally brought some awareness to how I’d really been eating. For longer than I’d care to admit. And as soon I had the thought, it was a done deal. There’s no point eating meat to feel better now and prepare my body for birth if I’m gonna keep downing pastries every second day and subsisting on a predominantly carb-and-cheese diet. Delicious as it may be.

Just like that, my diet changed.

I got back to eating nutritional snacks like nuts and veggies and fruit in between meals, and while my appetite is still mammoth it feel does like I have a bit longer between the crashes. I’m also craving healthier foods more often, and happy for a bit of dark chocolate here and there (ok every day but come on! It’s a superfood) rather than fatty, sugary desserts all the freaking time.

But what I’m eating isn’t the point. It’s not about diet and it’s certainly not about weight loss. It’s just about how when we open our eyes – and really look – everything changes.

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Gadi’s Birth Day (or, hospitals and Hypnobirthing)

Gadi’s Birth Day (or, hospitals and Hypnobirthing)

There are so many angles and ideas running through my head from which to come at this story – and of course the voice telling me to just take a nap, or pick up the gorgeous baby sleeping next to me and watch him for the next hour instead. Do I focus on expectations vs. reality? The indescribable joy that Uri and I are filled with every time we look at Gadi which overshadows anything that did or didn’t happen on his birthing day? How Hypnobirthing and a positive attitude in general made lemonades out of labor lemons? The bitchy list of “37 Ways in Which Hospitals are Anti-Health” which has been bubbling in my brain for three weeks now? Or some sort of babbling narrative combination of all of the above?

Gotta just start writing. Before it all disappears into a blur of laundry and feeding apps and enough baby photos to make all of my Facebook friends “hide” me in their news feeds.

I woke up around 6am on Saturday February 1, 2014 – Gadi’s due date – with the slow realization that these gas pains were getting pretty regular and might actually be contractions. After snoozing for as long as possible I got up and started timing the sensations, and doing some Hypnobirthing breathing and visualizations. I felt (and continued to feel for the entire labor) everything in my lower back, but at this point a bit of focus and relaxation got me through them pretty easily. They were coming about 5 minutes apart, for less than a minute. After about an hour I woke Uri up and told him that despite my months of trash talk about due dates, we may well be about to meet our baby on his. As we added final touches to our hospital bags, I lounged around the apartment finding positions which were most comfortable during contractions, had a shower, spoke to the midwives at the natural birthing clinic at Tel Hashomer Hospital, and agreed that we’d talk again once the contractions “got more intense.” Whatever that meant.

We decided to go for a walk, and at first it was great to be outside and moving around. We live in the middle of a city though and it didn’t take long for me to start feeling pretty self conscious about needing to lean over something, swing my hips and groan for a minute every few minutes. I was starting to understand what I’d read and heard about women in labor needing a private, intimate environment. More on that to come.

To prepare for labor and birth, Uri and I had taken a course in Hypnobirthing, and were planning for a calm, gentle, natural birth. I’d had a smooth, chilled pregnancy and despite some minor jitters towards the end, when the birthing day arrived I was calm and excited, and certainly not scared. The ease with which I was dealing with early labor led me to believe that the whole process would be a breeze just like I’d imagined, and that in a few hours I’d be floating in a birthing pool, looking beautiful and breathing my baby out into the world. Hmm, not quite.

Before long we were back home, spoke to the midwives again, and decided to head into the hospital. I put on my headphones, snuggled up to a pillow and practiced the Rainbow Relaxation in the back of the car, pulling myself forward to hang off the passenger seat every time a contraction started. It was uncomfortable but not that bad, and I was excited when we got to the hospital about 20 minutes later. I had expected the car ride to be far worse.

In actual fact, the next 4 hours or so were probably the worst part of the labor, and certainly the reason I’ll be planning things very differently the next time around. Without going into too many tedious details, I went from 2cm to about 7cm dilated, from contractions being manageable to taking up my entire focus and concentration, from feeling like I was in control and my body was just doing its thing to wanting to cry from frustration at the entire system. I understood first-hand how hospitals can funnel women straight from their dreams of natural birth and empowerment to screaming at their partners and begging for epidurals.

Despite having booked and paid for the natural birthing center I had to endure two 20-minute fetal monitors – supposedly laying flat on my back which felt completely impossible for me – and was ultimately told that I couldn’t be admitted because the baby’s heart rate wasn’t staying steady enough. While this almost threw me for a loop the truth is that by then – at least three hours after arriving at the hospital – all I wanted to do was get into a private room and I didn’t really care which one it was. Laboring in public is the pits, plain and simple. I still cannot believe that such a major hospital doesn’t at least have small areas for women and their birth partners – seriously a few meters curtained off with a beanbag and a physio ball would do it – while waiting for various checks and “measures” of progress.

In any case, we were taken into the delivery room around 4pm, having finally met up with the natural birth midwife who would accompany us for the rest of the journey. I was basically stripping as we walked down the hallway in anticipation of the jacuzzi, believing that it would finally get me back into the “zone” and out of this horrible hospital vibe. The room itself – while still a hospital room – was at least spacious, and I was able to move around easily as we had a cordless fetal monitor (which I had to wear continuously  all of the time because of the earlier dodgy reading) from the natural birthing suite. The only real “intervention” that I had to suck up was having an open vein put in as soon as I got into the spa – apparently hospital policy.

The order of what happened next is all a bit of a blur. Around the same time I got into the pool I felt my waters break, the midwife checked and I was at about 7 1/2 cm, and I realized it was time to let go. To let go of my disappointment about things not going exactly the way I’d planned, my surprise at how much contractions hurt, and the fact that I was in a hospital room with no tie-dye and no flowers in sight – and that I probably looked like shit. While my husband has since assured me I dealt with everything calmly and gracefully, it all seemed kinda crazy then and I had to find the space to be okay with it.

And where was the Hypnobirthing in all of this? Maybe I left it in the car, I dunno. I’m pretty sure that there were positive effects from all my practice – the fact that I was never scared, for example, and my familiarity with the slow breaths I used through each contraction. But there was certainly no rainbow mist and no time for visualizations. I remember Uri trying to start reading a script at one point and I was like “seriously? The contractions are like 2 minutes apart and last for over a minute – there’s no time!” And that was that.

After a while I had enough of the jacuzzi – it was a corner spa rather than a proper birthing pool and not the most comfortable – and started trying to find a more comfortable position around the room. I walked and leaned on Uri a bit, draped myself over the end of the bed, squatted… and before long the midwife checked me again and said I was 9 1/2 cm dilated and could start pushing whenever I wanted. I remember feeling excited about actually being able to “do” something, but confused because that “urge” that everyone talks about to bear down – I never felt it. I was enthusiastic though and the pressure of the baby’s head was definitely getting lower, so I started moving into the “birth breathing” that we’d learned and practiced. I don’t know if maybe I wasn’t doing it right, or if it was too early, but it did nothing – and eventually the midwife told me “honey, maybe this hypno-breathing works for second and third babies, but you’re gonna need to take a deep breath, hold it and push your baby out.”

So what was I gonna do, you know? Tell her “listen lady, I’ve read a whole book – twice! – and been to five classes. What do you know?” At the time it felt like she was the only person who was gonna help me get the baby out, and I really wanted to meet him by now. I felt like it had been forever and I’d had enough. So I held my breath and I pushed and pushed. I got cheered on, I moved around, and slowly slowly our baby’s head moved down and finally emerged through that “ring of fire” that I’d read about. Definitely the most painful part – and yes, I made some noise  – but it didn’t take too long. Another push and his whole body slid out, and suddenly our beautiful (and I mean beautiful!) baby was screaming and squirming on my stomach. We moved from the birthing stool on the floor up onto the (horrible hospital) bed and spent a surreal hour smiling, eating and exhaling, all the while with little Gadi trying to latch on to my nipple. I discovered then that it had actually only been a few hours – Gadi was born just before 7pm on his due date, 12 hours after I woke up and realized I was in labor. I also learned that Uri had not eaten or been to the bathroom all day – I really cannot explain what an amazing support he was (and continues to be).

During those next few hours I feel like I used more Hypnobirthing techniques than during the birth itself, but maybe it’s just that I was more conscious of it. In conversations about when to cut the cord and refusing Pitocin to help with the afterbirth, I felt I was able to stay calm and clearly voice our wishes, just like we’d practiced in class. And when my (multiple) tears were being stitched (while Uri had gone with Gadi to the doctor) I managed to stay very calm and relaxed with breathing exercises and visualizations.

That night and the next day or two weren’t the easiest for us – Gadi was hyperventilating and needed to have his stomach pumped and receive oxygen and fluids, and I got a bit post partum anemic, needed fluids and was very weak and dizzy – but I believe our Hypnobirthing preparation helped us stay as calm as possible. Here too, the challenge was to let go of our expectations and to be with the reality as it was. And it really wasn’t that bad. Happily, Gadi passed each test and check with flying colors, and I was able to feed him the following day, though we couldn’t bring him out of the nursery or take anyone else in with us to meet him. We dealt with our well-meaning family and friends calling and wanting to visit – some more understanding than others – as best we could, and tried to focus on bonding with our baby in the neon lights of the nursery.

So what are my takeaway points here? Birth is hard, and hospitals functioning in this way make it harder. I think that if you want a calm, natural birth either stay away from hospitals altogether, or if that’s not your thing get a doula. We’ll be doing one of the two next time for sure. I was very disappointed by the way things worked out with the natural birthing center, and don’t think that as first-time parents there was any way we could have kept me in the zone where I wanted to be in the face of the hospital bureaucracy and hoop-jumping. I should note that it’s the anti-birth and anti-recovery hospital policy with which I take issue, and not the conduct of individual staff members which was almost exclusively excellent.

At first I felt quite disillusioned with the way everything turned out, but I’m finding my peace with it now – especially as I start to feel more human and Gadi is just the most beautiful, chilled baby. Despite the “hospital” feel of the birth and all of my frustrations, everything did unfold completely naturally – by the book, really – and I still firmly believe that most women are able to birth their babies in this way. We just need to remember to breathe.

Gadi Henry Goldberg
Born 6:55pm on 1/2/2014
Weight: 3.7kg
What Not to Expect: A Guide to Staying Calm & Enjoying Pregnancy

What Not to Expect: A Guide to Staying Calm & Enjoying Pregnancy

Despite what I was led to expect – by peers, family members and mainstream media alike – I haven’t found pregnancy to be that difficult at all. Certainly, I do get a bit more tired and emotional than I used to, felt queasy as hell in the first few weeks and have had the odd bout of heartburn (more likely caused by the obligatory iron tablets than anything else) – but it’s been nothing like the nine months of hell that popular literature and opinion had led me to anticipate.

In fact, most of the time I feel great – both physically and emotionally – unless it’s 9am. Because that’s when my daily email from “What to Expect” arrives, carrying its latest attempt to simultaneously scare the shit out of me and make me buy truckloads of baby things that I’m pretty sure we don’t need. For starters, let’s check out the subject lines on the last week’s emails:

  • Dry Skin
  • Fetal Sleep Patterns
  • Insomnia
  • Ultrasound Photos
  • Relieving Neck Pain
  • Feeding a Cold and Flu
  • Coping with Varicose Veins

Seriously? How is it that pregnant women are simultaneously perceived as being glowing and radiant, all the while suffering from peeling skin, popping veins, colds and sore necks? What am I meant to be growing in here, an evil monster or a baby? How about:

  • Learning to relax
  • Focusing on how freaking excited you’re getting
  • Breastfeeding basics
  • Stretches to prepare you for labor
  • Iron-rich recipes
  • Learning perineum massage
  • Positive birthing affirmations

I know everyone’s different but somehow we as a society seem to have accepted a myth that pregnancy has to be one of the most unpleasant periods in a woman’s life – when really it should be one of the most precious and empowering. And I think it’s a damned shame. Even women – actually, especially women – dealing with uncomfortable symptoms like back pain and headaches would be far better served by some encouragement and tips on how to relax than by this anxiety-invoking junk.

Rather than learning how to be good patients, and to constantly focus on the negative, we should be gearing up to be good parents – I mean come on! I’m growing a human being inside of me! How freaking cool is that?! I strongly encourage pregnant women, their partners, and anyone else involved in the process to surround themselves with as many positive voices and sources of information as possible (see below for a list of places to start), to help combat this dangerous influx of negative messages.

If this sort of attitude doesn’t come naturally to you – seek out support. It’s there, albeit hidden. Take a birthing class which focuses on natural, non-medical options (yes, while making sure that you know what to do if something goes wrong). Refuse to get into battle story-esque conversations about horrible, stressful births. And it sounds crazy, but I really believe that eating well, resting when you can/need to and getting some exercise in a few times a week can make all the difference to a positive outlook and more enjoyable pregnancy.

Oh, and if they’re getting you down too, probably a good idea to unsubscribe from What To Expect’s daily horror updates.

Of course, I’m not in the clear yet, with still (hopefully) somewhere between 4 and 8 weeks until our baby’s Birth Day. But if this all goes down the drain next week at least I will have had eight-and-a-half months of relative calm. And that’s without even mentioning the head space I intend to be in when the much anticipated day arrives. More on that soon 🙂


A positive reading list: Books & blogs

The 5 Worst Pieces of Pregnancy Advice

The 5 Worst Pieces of Pregnancy Advice

One of the great things about being pregnant is the host of unsolicited advice I get wherever I go – from family, friends, service people, strangers on the street, real estate agents, and so on. I don’t like being told what to do at the best of times, so you can imagine how fun this has been for me. I hear small children have the same effect, though I’ve not yet had that dubious honor. It’s one thing while the little dude is still in utero – I can only imagine how I’m going react when strangers presume to tell me how to raise our child.

Of course, not all advice on pregnancy is useless and stupid. Some tips (like eat well, get sleep, exercise, give yourself a break if you want to spend the night on the couch eating chocolate every now and then, etc.) are worth listening to – probably pregnant or not. But most of these gems… I could do without.

Here are my favorites so far:

1. Russian remedy to treat pesky hormone headaches: A teaspoon of brandy or cognac under the tongue. And leave it there as long as possible. I should add that this tidbit was contributed by a chatty masseuse this past weekend, who later told me about a crazy craving she had (and gave in to) during one of her pregnancies. A bottle of vodka. “The body wants what it wants.” Mmmhm.

2. “Everyone will try to tell you what to do. The trick is to ignore them all and do what you want to do. One thing I will say though….” Credits to my brother, a new father himself, for this contribution. It’s uncanny how many people start their sentences like this.

3. “Oh, that’s just gas.” Seriously? I’m 30. I’ve had gas before, I know what it feels like – something just freaking kicked me! It baffles me how many people think that because they’ve had one baby they know exactly what’s going on in my abdomen. Even my obstetrician gets that she doesn’t know everything and there’s a huge spectrum of experience!

4. “Don’t go to the gym/exercise/run/do yoga.” Again, seriously? And don’t even get me started on how most of the geniuses dolling out this advice come from an era in which a beer a day was recommended for strong pregnant women, and cigarettes were still healthy.

5. “Growing fetuses need meat.” Okay, I’ll concede that maybe some people need meat to absorb iron, but I don’t – never have. In 17 years of being vegetarian my iron has never been low, my B12 was even too high once, and (until I fell pregnant), I basically only get tired if I pull all-nighters. Next person to give me dietary advice without a record like that or a degree in nutrition gets a punch in the head.

End rant. Stay tuned for “Worst Baby Advice Ever,” and the return of pregnant-vodka-lady.

When you blame, you be lame

When you blame, you be lame

The Tel Aviv Marathon was scheduled for last Friday (March 15, 2013), but the main 42km event was postponed due to an unseasonable 35 degree Celcius heatwave which swept the country that day. Unfortunately the marathon itself has now been cancelled altogether due to a tragic death and dozens of injuries during the events which went ahead, including the 21km half marathon, and volleys of subsequent accusations levelled back and forth.

In response to the weather predictions, the Tel Aviv Municipality decided earlier in the week to postpone the main event, and to start the other races earlier than planned so as to miss the heat of the day. I started running in the 10km just after 7am and took the race pretty easy, and while it was hot I can honestly say that it wasn’t that bad. There were plenty of extra water stations, hoses literally watering down runners, and tips before the race on how to deal with the expected heat.

And yet despite all efforts, one person died (supposedly from heat stroke but the family decided against an autopsy) and some 80 people required medical attention.

It took no time at all for accusations started flying, from media and citizens alike. Against the Tel Aviv Municipality, the mayor, the Health Ministry – you  name it, someone blamed it. The question is – what does it help? It’s tragic that someone died, sure, but unfortunately – people die. They die in marathons, they die in car accidents, they die old and young, expected and suddenly. The death of a young father is a tragedy, no ifs or buts about it; in no way, shape or form do I wish to diminish that fact. I just question what purpose all of the blame surrounding this tragedy serves.

Growing up there was a well-known phrase about assumptions: “When you assume, you make an ass out of you and me” (ass+u+me = assume). Last week, as fingers were being pointed left, right and center before I’d even passed the finish line, a revision came to mind: When you blame, you be lame (b+lame = lame).

In Facebook posts and news articles, radio talk shows and countless personal conversations, people tried to find the authority to blame. Others turned the other direction entirely and pointed the finger at the casualties themselves, claiming they were obviously pushing themselves too hard or (as may well have been the case) didn’t know their own limits. Whichever way the accusations go, it doesn’t matter. The fact is, shit happens.

And, as it happens, deaths in marathon running are not as much of an anomaly as Israelis this past week would have you believe. A 30-year-old woman died running a London marathon earlier this year, a man collapsed and died on the finish line of the 2012 Mexico City marathon, and there were three deaths in as many Canadian marathons in 2011. Some likely didn’t train properly or pushed themselves too hard, others were found to have taken (legal) performance-enhancing stimulants. Though Israelis like to think they’re special, when it comes down to it we’re all the same.

But that’s not to say marathons are inherently dangerous; the benefits decidedly outweigh the risks. In the months leading up the events I saw hundreds of people training around the city. Fit people and overweight people alike, young and old, male and female – all taking the opportunity to challenge their minds and their bodies in a pretty damn healthy way. I have no statistics to quote but I’m willing to bet that many of them will keep running after the race (or the non-event, as the case may be). Again – it’s a terrible shame that one person had to die, but the societal gain seems worth it.

In fact, a retrospective analysis conducted in 2007 found that contrary to impressions given by the news media, marathons are not even responsible for an increase in deaths compared to those that would have occurred on the roads had they not been closed for such events. Rather, the risk of death was found to have decreased by 35%. Health gains aside, societies are benefiting merely by closing roads to hold these events.

No doubt, the authorities should conduct a proper investigation into whether or not anything could have been done to prevent the fatality and injuries. However, the bottom line is that tens of thousands of people made efforts towards their health in previous months, and will likely continue to do so. It is horrible that one person had to die, but the benefits far outweigh the risks, and people should keep that in mind before jumping to point fingers.

When you blame, you be lame.