rosemary

A GENTLE END TO BREASTFEEDING MY FIRST CHILD

 
fresh lilac in a lilac colored ceramic vase by samantha spigos

Seven months pregnant and growing bigger and tighter and sorer every week, I felt more ready than not to start weaning my daughter off breastmilk. That’s also to say I was hardly sure if I could handle it, or if she could, but I suspected my intuition was correctly guiding me. In motherhood, there is innate wisdom borne in each of us — a most helpful truth when it comes time to make deep decisions. When I found out I was expecting another child, I wept at the thought of not being able to nurse Rosemary as long as I had originally hoped. Sure, I could co-feed both, but my personal inclination was to direct all breastmilk to the new babe and allow the older sibling to flourish independently. But my heart ached. I understand now that part of my journey in accepting my new mothering role to two was to lay bare my unsure, aching heart, and allow it to become fortified in courage. Thankfully it was fleeting (innate wisdom, etc.), and as with so many things, the transition, though not without challenge, proved quite natural. Women around me said it would be, but it’s hard to know until you know.

Being a woman particularly interested in how other women raise babies, I’ve learned that the nuances of breastfeeding are myriad and personal. A woman’s ability to breastfeed, or not, and for how long, and using what method, is humbling to hear. There is much to be gleaned from every single mother’s journey. I am blessed with a great milk supply and I genuinely love breastfeeding. It did not come easily, and after many tears, a lactation consultant, and the support of those around me, Rosemary and I established a breastfeeding bond that I remain incredibly grateful for. She and I are five weeks weaned now, something I can hardly believe!

At my midwife appointments, my body kept indicating that I was under stress and fighting off sickness. I felt so tired, regardless what I did to improve my energy. Around the same time, Rosie was thriving and seeming to use my body more for comfort than for fuel. Maybe it’s time to close this chapter, I thought. I was nervous to air those thoughts to my midwife and doulas, but as soon as I did, her response was, “You don’t have to convince us! If your body and mind are telling you it’s time, it’s time.” By my next appointment, my body was healthy and hydrated. Our intuition knows!

fresh lilacs in a lilac ceramic vase by samantha spigos

I think it took us three weeks from the day I started weaning her to the day we ended. And another two weeks for her to seem unaware that breastfeeding was an option. Now when she looks at my body or touches my breasts (which she usually does inquisitively while laughing), I tell her that the milk is all gone (using the sign for “all gone” which she knows well) and that it’s for the new baby. She seems to recognize that there is a baby inside my belly, or at the least she gives kisses and says “baby” every time she seems my bare belly. In the first few weeks, however, she would just cry with her head on my shoulder when I did not submit to her desire to nurse. Heartbreaking, but healthy — that’s how it felt. I would rub her back and offer words of comfort like, “I know this is really hard for you. This is hard for mama too. We are going through a transition together.” I would follow up with words like, “I love you, and will always hold you. It’s OK for you to cry.” By not talking about another baby, but instead allowing her to be the focus of my words and attention, I think / hope / could sense that she felt comfortable, even if she was confused. I marvel at how she adapted so quickly. Kids are amazing. Another sweet outcome of the transition was witnessing her relationship with Mark. Rest time had always been a Mom game. Now Mark could rock her for bedtime and sink into that truly unparalleled snuggle time.

Another something to note is that Rosemary uses a pacifier. We have always tried to use it sparingly, but are of the philosophy that comforting aids are not harmful as long as the parents are attentive to the emotions and signals of their little ones. During the breastfeeding transition we definitely saw Rosie become more attached to her pacifier at times of rest. She’s still using it, and each time I feel riddled with guilt or concern over it, Mark and the rest of my family lovingly respond with, “One thing at a time.” And it’s true — our family is soon to go through the biggest transition yet, and I want my daughter to feel comfortable and safe as it happens. If that includes a pacifier, great.

Where our days were punctuated with restful breaks to breastfeed, now they are filled with restful snuggling in the rocking chair. Some days I miss sitting and nursing, but most days I am content with my playful little girl. She plays for longer durations now, literally smells the flowers — ah, to smell a lilac for the first time!, and especially loves snuggling up with books. To be a mother so blessed. She is the gift of my life.

I hope to illuminate something that I was unsure about before going through it. Each woman’s path is unique, and raising humans is about as intimate as it gets. I hope my words offer you something, whether it’s a look into one woman’s approach, or the confidence to know that you too can blossom through an uncharted experience. As I have, so can you.

a child with a flower by samantha spigos

—S

A BUNNY OF HER OWN

 
cotton wool handsewn bunny by samantha spigos

Rosemary turned one on the twenty-first of January. In truth, I love this age the most. I love that she is no longer a tiny newborn, no longer a floppy, squealing six-month old, no longer a freshly crawling nine-month old. The goal of raising children and living our own lives is to keep staying alive, no? Every stage was our favorite stage (well, except the first spell of teething). I feel no sadness that the days have been slow but the year flew by. Mark and I rejoice in our one-year old girl, thanking God for her health and vibrancy and undeniable charm; thanking God she is alive and thriving! Perhaps in twenty years I will lament how quickly it all passed, but for now I feel content to spend each day with our one-year old, our Bubinga, our bunny. Speaking of, I sewed Rosemary a birthday bunny.

handsewn bunny first birthday gift by samantha spigos
handsewn wool cotton bunny first birthday by samantha spigos
first birthday gift handsewn cotton wool bunny by samantha spigos
cotton wool handsewn bunny by samantha spigos

Long before Rosemary was Rosemary, but rather a floating water baby we referred to as Shim, I purchased the materials to make a stuffed bunny. I really, really love a good stuffed toy. It’s the history of mohair bears, the companionship of fuzzy bedtime friends, and the unexpected reasons children love the ones they do that spurred my desire to sew my own. It’s no secret here that I am deeply devoted to natural fibers, in jest referring to myself as a Wool Evangelist. I know of a handful of special toy makers out there producing heirloom-quality stuffed toys made exclusively of natural fibers (cotton and wool, mostly). I want to buy all of them, but at present can not exactly afford any of them. For Christmas Rosemary received a donkey and a hedgehog from her gurny, and a pocket doll from her grandma — each one made of cotton, wool, and alpaca fibers. Talk about a lucky lady! (Or is it me who really loves them? As Mark’s mom once joked during a gas station pitstop, “You want her to have the beautiful toys, but she’s going to want the Beanie Boos from the gas station.”) Having held onto the slubby cotton fleece and peach wool felt for more than a year, I contemplated not going forward with sewing her any animal at all. Sure, I’d invested in the materials, but could anything I make really compare to the toys she had just been gifted for Christmas?

It turns out that yes, it can.

cotton wool handsewn bunny by samantha spigos
wool cotton handsewn bunny by samantha spigos

“Real isn't how you are made,” said the Skin Horse.

“It's a thing that happens to you.

When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with,

but REALLY loves you,

then you become Real.

The Velveteen Rabbit

cotton wool handsewn bunny by samantha spigos
cotton wool handsewn bunny by samantha spigos
cotton wool handsewn bunny by samantha spigos

It took roughly a week to sew, and this is from someone who has only sewn three garments total. Much of that week was spent waiting for the wool stuffing to arrive and hand stitching the limbs and head to the body. The day before her birthday I haphazardly freestyle embroidered her initials into the rear, because should not all handmade objects come with a love letter? This was the most enjoyable project I’ve made in a year or more. Something about knowing my child would hold it, possibly even love it, and maybe keep it close by for a very long time truly fueled me with an honest ambition I do not generally feel while making. If you have never made a loved one a stuffed toy but think you might like to, please consider this the gentle nudging you need. Unsurprisingly, I want to knit and sew stuffed toys forever now.

Happy birthday to our Rosemary Isidora, a little funny bunny of a one-year old.

cotton wool handsewn bunny by samantha spigos

For the inquisitive . . .

+ Materials used*:
Organic cotton fleece (1 yd)
Wool felt in color Peach 69 (1 mm square)
Cotton sewing thread in color 1140
Sashiko embroidery thread in color Orchid Pink
+ Soft Woolen Bunny free pattern.
+ A sunshine dress to bring cheer (from the shop of an amazing heritage toymaker).

*This material list provided enough fabric and thread that I can sew two bunnies.


Or, a few heirloom-quality bunnies ready to be gifted . . .

I’ve compiled the very best stuffed rabbits I know of. They are not inexpensive. If it’s within your means to provide a gift like this to someone you love, I would gently encourage you to trust that your gift will be cherished. Like adults, children truly do have the capacity to appreciate and respect high-quality objects.

+ Baby’s first bunny. This bunny went everywhere Rosemary went for months.
+ A true velveteen rabbit, thread whiskers and all.
+ German-made bunny that is sure to be passed down.
+ Spectacular rabbits to grow through childhood with (from the maker of the sunshine dress).


—S

ROSEMARY, IN WORDS | PT. 3: BIRTH AT HOME

 
labor

This is a multi-part series on the home birth of our daughter, Rosemary. Click here to read Parts One and Two.
Note: My home birth story is triumphant and positive, though not without intensity and pain. This is safe to read if you are avoiding stories of negative birth experiences.

Moments after I told my mom to stop saying labor would come, labor came. It was 8:30 p.m. and I can still picture the look of excited hesitation Mark was flashing me when every five minutes I would say, "it's happening again."  All day I had been waxing between anger and calm over the absence of labor signs. A woman overdue is a force unto herself, or I was. Mark and I spent a large part of the day encouraging labor. So fond is the memory of those final hours just my husband and I. We took a walk to the post office and the hardware store — less than a quarter-mile but all the walking I could muster. Beyond just walking, we tried a host of recommendations for encouraging labor: spicy food, a bath, physical affection, aromatherapy, the whole kit and caboodle. (A quick digression: I have chosen to be open about the physical aspect of our pregnancy because a) there's only one way a baby is conceived, and it should not be taboo to discuss the same thing in pregnancy, and b) if pregnancy came to fruition in a healthy and consensual way, it can only fortify the couple to be physically affectionate during pregnancy — especially before a cataclysmic event like birth, after which time there is a long spell best summed up like this: ain't no way.)

Whether a combination of efforts or just the baby's time, it worked. 

 After having eaten a supper of red miso soup with rice noodles and cilantro, we settled onto our sofa to watch an episode of some such food show. The first sensation of the uterus contacting is not unlike menstrual cramps. I messaged my sister and asked if it could be true. She confirmed that it was absolutely so. We excitedly timed my contractions at five minutes apart and thirty seconds long. My contractions never spaced out and never stalled. Mark made the final preparations in the house: dishes washed, floors vacuumed; snacks set out for the team, bone broth thawed. In the mix of it all we forgot to get our cat out of the house, so he spent a cozy 20 hours in the laundry room. We lit candles around our icons of St. Isidore and the Nativity and prayed together. Mark got some sleep and I settled into the brand new sensation of working to get a baby out instead of keeping a baby in. 

In the middle of the night I experienced a strong contraction that lasted 60 seconds and a few more just like it piggybacked. Officially in active labor. We called my sister and got ahold of our midwife, who sent over her assistant midwife. My labor continued for another fifteen hours. I labored down in the birth pool through the night and well into the frosty, overcast morning. Aimee and my mom sat beside the pool and prayed a rosary aloud to me. It was so soothing that I fell asleep between contractions. During the pool hours, everyone took turns resting or reading, eating or making coffee. It was a wonderfully calm time. Mark said that for the ten hours I was in the water I kept to one thing: steady breathing. I could feel my body making progress, like my cervix was dilating with every contraction and I was sending my baby downward. It was challenging but I was not afraid. Submitting to my body felt good.

I focused on my breath and my womb, imagining that the sacred home our baby had occupied was ready to send forth the incredible life it had nourished. The intensity was mounting; once I hit transition I lost sight of everything going on around me save my husband. I held tight to my gaze on Mark. He held my arms in the pool; we looked into each other's eyes and cried. Who would our baby be? . . . Late morning arrived and I had no idea so many hours had passed. And I was fully dilated! Up to this point my labor had been a dream—not without hard work, but the hard work was making it all happen and thus felt very worthwhile. 

DSC01442.jpg

I got out of the pool around 10 or 11 a.m. and thought I would just wait to feel the urge to push. I supposed that since I was fully dilated I might not have as many contractions. Not so. For all the reading and listening I did, no external source prepared me for what my body would do. The baby had to move down the birth canal, which would prove hours of the most challenging — at times excruciating — work of my life. My mom and dad (yes, my dad was there!), three of my sisters, and Mark were all there, plus a substantial birth team of eight or more women, and eventually Mark's parents joined us in the house too! My family would take turns rubbing my back and offering counter pressure. They would place cold towels with lavender and frankincense essential oils on my forehead and neck. The towels felt so good. Inhaling peppermint oil during each contraction staved off vomiting. Nicole (our midwife) determined that baby's head was not in an optimal position and some positioning and belly manipulation was necessary.

This was the stage of labor where every contraction felt like the strongest pain I had ever been through—I thought it could not possibly get more intense, but this was before pushing for three hours. My mind was blank to everything except that my baby had to come out, had to come out, had to come out. Some part of me — greater than my hope, greater than my courage, greater than myself — held fast in understanding I could and would persevere. If I had never witnessed hundreds of animals give birth I might've faltered in that belief. Also, it became abundantly clear that Mark and I both needed the support, touch, and voices of every person there. Like ancient history, we gratefully allowed a whole village of women (and men!) to take care of us and usher in new life.

labor 2

There were hours of pushing—first with my bottom in the air, and later on my back. I hated those positions. But in doing so the baby was successfully adjusting and moving. So I kept to it. Eventually I was able to move onto all fours on the bed with a peanut ball to rest beneath my chest. It was agonizing. I remember saying the words, "I want to die." In that moment—but only for a moment—I was defeated. I would have preferred my body expire than keep working. But I needed that baby to live, and there was only one way to ensure life: keep pushing. I was using every ounce of energy I had, depleting my womb with every series of pushes and restoring it with bone broth and a high-protein smoothie. I could hardly abide the wretched texture of the smoothie, the honey sticks, and an especially harrowing spoonful of peanut butter, but I could feel each swallow literally restoring my energy, like I was Mario leveling up. In retrospect, the way I was nourished by food was a very powerful experience. Without sustenance, I 100% would have transferred to the hospital for a cesarian. I could not have pushed her out on my own without food, and for that I feel immense gratitude to the animals, insects, and plants that helped bring forth life.

All I saw or knew was Mark, through broken blood vessels and swollen eyes. He was supporting the weight of me — emotionally and physically — with the fortitude of a husband truly devoted. 

Nicole rightly suspected she had her hand up by her face and manipulated her position as she was crowning. How can I put this delicately? It felt like someone poured kerosene on my vagina and threw a lit match on it. Instantaneous red hot flaming heat. Pushing (obviously) made it worse, and the only reason I continued to push was to keep our baby alive. Fire, fire, oh God I am on fire, is what I would have said if I could have spoken. This went on for a veritable eternity, or long enough that I was so consumed to have no idea when her head came out. There was no relief in that moment. I heard nothing; I only felt the fire. I had no idea everyone in the room was telling me our baby had a head of hair; no idea about anything at all other than fire, fire, fire. I had entered into this delirious state of Beyond, and in that space I pushed harder than I knew myself capable of.

I felt a magnificent whoosh best described as a slippery flood of water extinguishing the fire: she was out. Alive. Life entered into life. I reached for her through my legs with an animalistic need, brought her to my chest and all but collapsed onto my back. I closed my eyes and touched her wet, warm head. Mark was crying. I have no memory of what he said, only that he laid next to me and smiled. I opened my eyes to behold her, whispered the graceful words, ". . . our baby is a cone head," and smiled my first. (More accurately, she was a train head. That's what hours in a narrow birth canal do to an unfused skull. Truly miraculous design.) A few minutes passed and my mom asked if we were "ever going to check if it was a boy or a girl," to which Mark looked and announced with 90% surety (our room was dark!) that she was a She.

She was. . . resplendent. My 9 1/2 pound daughter with a 15 inch head and the chubbiest legs you've ever seen was common as a baby and extraordinary as my own. Rosemary Isidora, our child of the good earth, born on the feast of Saint Agnes.

In an instant, my life took on incomprehensible meaning. 
I was deliriously glad.
I was supremely proud.
I was, and still am, and hope to always remain, fully transfigured.
Thanks be to God.

DSC01503.jpg
mark and rosie

Rosemary and I two days after the birth; Rosemary one day after the birth; Rosemary and Mark a few hours after the birth. You can see that just a few hours after the birth her head had already resumed a normal shape.


—S

ROSEMARY, IN WORDS | PT. 2: GROWING A BABY

 
the magic is in you

This is a multi-part series on the home birth of our daughter, Rosemary.
To read the first part on finding out we were pregnant, click here

It's really something to have two people inhabit one body. Pregnancy is a fact of every life, yes — but is it maybe so common and required that we easily forget how astounding it actually is? I suspect it is the most tender time of a woman's life. A pregnant woman is a literal vessel for another life, and not just any life, but a life that is so completely dependent on her that they could not survive even fifteen minutes without her. What a hugely important job it is to be pregnant! And this is not even to speak of the mental and physical endurance. It is monumental; it is anything but ordinary. Around the start of the second trimester this job of utmost responsibility and privilege started to suffuse my thoughts day and night.

For the first twelve weeks I was trying to survive the nausea and the exhaustion and understand how my breasts could possibly hurt so much. In retrospect that pain was like a gentle rain compared to the tsunami that was the boob pain I would experience after Rosemary was born. I couldn't read books or write letters because focusing my eyes made me want to throw up. It seemed like everything I had once loved made me feel awful. Growing a life is pretty great consolation, or it must be, because the misery never outweighed the joy.

Actually, my pregnant body was the most comfortable I have ever felt in my own skin. 'Comfortable' as it relates to self-image—there is nothing comfortable about gaining 50 pounds and having a baby jab you in the cervix and the ribs at the same time. I felt empowered carrying another life around with me, and I've come to understand that I feel most feminine and feminist when my body has a job to do. I suppose that's why I love my postpartum body: my belly may be soft and my eyes might never look rested again, but I keep another human alive. To borrow a word from my dad, gah-lee, that's amazing stuff. If I were to retroactively assign a word to my approach to pregnancy, 'willing' would be it. I was willing to become and do whatever my baby needed, and it's a good thing I had that fortitude because round ligament pain, and breasts that suddenly look like bullseye targets, and skin tags (seriously why), and hugely swollen ankles are not exactly mood-boosting. But it was always worth it. . . and I ripped the skin tags off. (Are you cringing yet? These are the things people never say and maybe for good reason.)

The last photo I took of Rosemary in utero; three days before she would come earth-side.

The last photo I took of Rosemary in utero; three days before she would come earth-side.

I committed myself to a few things for those nine months that no doubt influenced Rosemary's beautiful, spiritual, challenging birth at home. Most importantly I was unafraid. Once I could read again, I educated myself about the female body and what it needs to and will do in labor. Fear comes from a lack of knowledge; a lack of trust. Animals are unafraid during birth and I wanted to channel that fearlessness. I read dozens of birth stories and listened to countless episodes of The Birth Hour podcast — though I avoided traumatic stories, because I was particularly sensitive while pregnant and tried not to impart negative emotion on myself or my baby! We entrusted my care to a phenomenal midwife and doula team. Secondly, and this is unconventional in the western world (though it is traditional): I committed to staying at home with our baby after s/he was born — to not leaving even once unless an extenuating circumstance required it — for at minimum two weeks and hopefully for one month. And this, from a woman who loves conducting nearly every aspect of life outside! Mark and I both felt called to the ancient tradition of keeping baby and mama out of the wind and harsh conditions of the outside world so that we might stay warm, cozy, and focus solely on bonding. 

By the time the third trimester rolled around, I was deep into nesting. I was knitting for hours every day, cleaning the house top to bottom, and resting a lot. I made many fancy turmeric hot cocoas in those final days and stockpiled bone broth in the freezer. I pondered. And if I wasn't pondering, I was pampering. Readying. My body and mind began turning inward and there was no sense in protesting. Beckoned to linger and move slower, it was as though my body was saying, "rest up, for soon there will be much work to do."

affirmation table

I drank raspberry leaf and nettle tea. I ate dates. Mark gave perineal massage. We made love. I took baths and rubbed essential oils over my belly. Mark played piano for the baby. And in the days that would become the last before she arrived, I set up an affirmation corner on the dresser with beeswax and bayberry candles, icons of St. Isidore and the Nativity, a statue of an angel holding a baby that my own mama gifted me as a young girl, and notes I had written to myself. I hung a banner with the words THE MAGIC IS IN YOU sewn into it directly above the birthing pool. And it was. (And it still is.)

And then. . . I waited. My due date came and it went. Though I had tried feebly to "forget the due date" like sage women had advised, I always knew when it was. My body wasn't ready but my mind was. Carrying around a huge globe on the front of my person rendered me quite weary, a condition nearly every full-term mama can understand. The days kept coming and going, and still no little one. My mom had been in California on business with the knowledge that I might have the baby while she was gone. This was the only unsavory detail of my birth plan because I wanted — no, needed —her by my side. Each morning I'd message her, "still nothing." She called me as soon as her plane landed in Ohio and said, "I'm home! This baby can come anytime! This baby will come very soon. Maybe even tonight!" And in my indignation I grew irritated and told her to stop saying my baby would come soon and start assuming it would be a few more weeks because, "I will be pregnant forever and my baby is not coming anytime soon." I hung up the phone, and ten seconds later I had my first contraction. 

baby toes

Psst. This book details the tradition of staying indoors and was a major influence in my prenatal and postpartum philosophy. Also, The Birth Hour podcast is an excellent resource for anyone interested in / pursuing / in the throes of pregnancy!


—S