Motherland

My body
Your first home,
first nation
first residence.

My breasts
Your first dinner table.
Your first bed and pillow
with my arms, your first blankets.

My body
Your first jungle gym,
roller coaster,
mountain to climb.

My face
Your first love,
first toy,
first discovery you ever explored.

My body
Your first mode of transport.
Your very first safety net.

I was your beginning.
The notch in your belly
demands you never forget
your Motherland.

My very favorite baby products

Entering parenthood can be overwhelming on its own, but now new parents are bombarded with trying to figure out which gadgets to buy and what baby gear they need.  I've tried to stick with a minimalist approach to parenting, acquiring only things I absolutely love or know I truly need.  Here are a few of those baby items I adore and couldn't have done without these last 5 months.


Books: The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding

This book was my bible during the first month of breastfeeding and has continued to be useful up to today.  Published by the worldwide organization, La Leche League, it's a god-send to new mothers, helping to normalize different breastfeeding struggles, encouraging you to trust your intuition, and gently guide you in bonding with your baby.  Even beyond this book, La Leche League is an invaluable resource to help with breastfeeding.  They have volunteers around the world to help guide you with any troubles or concerns you might have and I found they are so happy to help in any way they can!

 
 

The Tao of Motherhood

I keep this small book by my bedside and read a small excerpt from it a few times each week.  Every short chapter brings parenthood back to the essentials, back to simple guiding values on the days when I might worry I'm doing something wrong or when I become overwhelmed by it all.  It taps into deeper truths that I might tend to forget and it has helped me to trust myself and the unique relationship with my child.

Diaper bag: Moop waxed canvas bag

A diaper bag is one of those musts and for something you carry around all day, every day, you want something of beauty and high-quality.  For a bonus, support a small business selling handmade bags - Moop is a Pittsburgh business selling waxed canvas bags.  I received The Porter as a gift from my registry.

Song: Lullaby by The Dixie Chicks

You think the Dixie Chicks are so '90s?  Check out their beautiful Lullaby and think again.  I am in love with this sweet song and I sing it to Leo weekly.  It's our song. Try singing it to your child without crying.  Try.

How long do you want to be loved?
Is forever enough? Is forever enough?

How long do you want to be loved?
Is forever enough ‘cause I’m never ever giving you up.
— Lullaby, The Dixie Chicks

Blankets: Embroidered knit cotton blanket

We were gifted this blanket by a friend when Leo was born.  As someone whose love language is gifts, this one touched me.  Embroidered with "lionheart," it's simple, beautiful, and meaningful, and the perfect blanket to wrap my little guy in.  I secretly hope it will become his attachment object.

Handwoven cotton swaddle blanket

It seems every mommy blog insisted that the swaddle blanket from Aden and Anais was a must.  I bought a pack for myself, but then I came across a group of weavers in Uganda and had them make me my own swaddle blanket.  It's the same lightweight cotton and the design is stunning.  It's handwoven from Ugandan cotton and can be used to swaddle your baby, as a burp cloth, a sun cover, or to put under their bum during an on-the-go change.

 
 

Bottles: Pura stainless steel bottles

These Pura bottles are the only bottles we have used.  They are stainless steel and BPA free, but the best part is they grow with your child.  Switch out the nipple with a sippy top when they become old enough and then switch it out again with a straw.  Or even put a top on it and use it for snacks.  Versatile, safe, and eco-friendly.  This product checks so many boxes on what is important to me and Leo seems to like them, too.

Bassinet: Mugavu wood base with Moses basket and sheepskin

I found this Moses basket in a craft market in Uganda, which is hand-woven from palm leaves.  Later, I came across this design for a bassinet and we had a local carpenter make it from Uganda's mugavu wood.  It's been the perfect place to put Leo down for a nap so I can keep an eye on him while I do work at home.  I love how it adds to our home decor rather than contrast with our aesthetic.  I completed the set with a sheepskin, which we use all the time.  I can take it out of the bassinet and place on the floor wherever I am, providing Leo a comfy, soft place to practice tummy time and providing my home with another piece of beauty.

Leo's birth story

Leo’s due date was April 25, 2015 but he decided to wait another 2 ½ weeks to arrive.  Every day, for two weeks, I woke up thinking, “This HAS to be the day.”  Then I would go to bed that night, hopeful contractions would start while I was sleeping, but I would wake up in the morning feeling no different. At 2 weeks overdue, my midwife, Rhoda, referred me to Dr. Stroud’s office to have check-ups and make sure the baby was still healthy and not under any stress.  

On May 11th, I went into Dr. Stroud’s office to get a biophysical profile, or BPP, which monitors the baby’s heart rate, practice breathing, and other indicators to make sure it was still fine.  While lying down, the nurse pointed to my stomach, which was tightening, and told me I was having a contraction.  I had no idea that was a contraction because it happened quite often over the last several weeks.  I just thought the baby was moving.  So after we left the doctor’s office, I began paying attention to the contractions and they kept coming, although I couldn’t really feel them.  When we got home, Eric and I went for a walk, which we had been doing every day to encourage labor along.  I had a hard time finishing the walk and I felt a ton of pressure in the bottom of my belly, but this was nothing new.  It had happened before and those other times I thought maybe labor would start, but I was always left disappointed, so I didn’t want to get my hopes up.  After dinner, Dad said he was going to check some fields in the Ranger and I thought taking a bumpy ride might also help a bit. I also took any excuse to get out of the house, so I went along.  I could feel some contractions coming and going, but they were very slight.  Eric and I watched some television that night and I paid more attention to the contractions, which certainly seemed more regular, although I still could hardly feel them.

I decided to go to bed, thinking I would need lots of rest, and I slept well.  I woke up early the next morning, on the 12th, feeling more crampy than normal and I went over to my mom and dad’s house and told Mom that I really thought today was the day.  The contractions started being 6-7 minutes apart, and at this point I tried to go on with life as normal.  At 7:00am, I texted Rhoda and my doula, Kristin, telling them I was pretty sure this was it.  I caught up on a couple of photo projects I had been putting off and wrote some emails while sitting on a birth ball.  After a while, I had to stop what I was doing when a contraction came and close my eyes.  I imagined myself on a swing that took me high in the air and then back down again.  I’m not sure why that visualization came to mind, but it helped make each contraction seem less painful at that point.  Eric was doing some reading for his PhD and he told me to let him know if I needed him.

At about 2:00pm, I started making some vocalizations with each contraction and I texted Rhoda and Kristin again, letting them know contractions were stronger and closer together.  Rhoda advised me to get some rest if I could, so I lay down, but I couldn’t fall asleep.  My doula, Kristin, came within the hour.  Eric started filling the labor tub and he put on some music while Kristin pressed on my lower back with each contraction to help ease the pain.  I was a bit hurt that Eric was focusing on tasks and not on me, so I asked Kristin to switch jobs with him.  From that time onward, Eric never once left my side.  I wouldn’t let him!  Even if I asked for some water or chapstick, I did not want him to leave the room and I made someone else get it.  I wanted him right there with me and he was definitely my biggest support!

I asked Kristin to tell Rhoda that I would like her to come soon, and she showed up around 4:30pm.  When she arrived, Kristin walked over to my parents’ house to give my mom an update and to tell her things were progressing nicely.  She and Catie, the midwife’s assistant, were trying to fill the birth pool, but didn’t have enough hot water, so they began boiling pots of water on the stovetop.  Catie also began preparing an herbal bath for after delivery.

Rhoda checked my cervix and I was only 2 cm dilated, but she told me that I should not be discouraged because the hard part of labor for first-time mothers is the thinning of the cervix and mine was about 70% effaced.  She monitored my and the baby’s vital signs, which looked great.  I was laboring in the bed and on the bathroom floor.  It felt good to put my chest on the ground and my butt up in the air to relieve some of the pressure.  It had been a few hours of active labor and I remember wanting to know how much longer it would take which, of course, nobody could tell me.  I asked, “Is it going to be several more hours of this?”

I didn’t want to get into the tub too early, because I had heard that the water can help relieve contractions a bit and I wanted to wait until I really needed that relief.  Around 5:30pm, I decided I needed the relief and I got into the tub.  I was pissed when my first leg went in and the water was hardly lukewarm.  “It’s cold!” I protested.  I was looking forward to immersing myself in really warm water.  Both Kristin and Catie continued to boil water on the stove and dump it in the tub.   After a couple of contractions in the tub, I asked someone to get me my labor beads that my friends gave me during my birthing blessingway in Kampala.  I really wanted something to squeeze in my hand and the beads also reminded me of women who were thinking of me and standing with me from afar.

 
 

I started feeling sick with each contraction and I didn’t want to poop in the pool, so I was really holding back, which made each contraction worse.  I got out of the pool and went to the bathroom after grabbing a bowl to throw up in while sitting on the toilet.  I was so cold and shivering from getting out of the water, so Eric and Kristin covered me with lots of towels while I sat on the toilet.  It felt good to be on the toilet, in a seated position, where I mentally knew I could release and let it all go if I needed to!  With each contraction, my stomach tightened so much and I could see it tighten around the baby.  I started dreading that sight and it made me feel nauseous. I used a lot of vocalization throughout my labor and I didn’t hold back!  I was loud!  I commented that I couldn’t imagine laboring at a hospital where I would be self-conscious of the noise I was making.  I was grateful that the people who were with me didn’t mind and even encouraged me to make as much noise as I wanted!  My contractions were about 2-3 minutes apart at this point.

I asked Rhoda to check me again and I was now 5cm dilated.  Rhoda had Kristin do “rebozo sifting” on my tummy, which involved putting a cloth around my tummy while I lay over a birth ball and she shifted the cloth back and forth, which apparently encouraged optimal positioning of the baby’s head on the cervix.  She did this while Eric ate dinner.  After this, Kristin went again to my parents’ house to let them know all was still progressing well. 

I felt like the contractions kept coming so close together and I couldn’t get a break.  When it got hard, I went back to my favorite position with my chest on the ground and my butt in the air, but after a while, Rhoda told me that I would have to lean into the pain, to relax and let go.  She advised me to find another position that allowed gravity to do its work.  She first advised me to sit on the toilet again and lean back.  This did seem to help, even just mentally, knowing that this is what it would take to move things along.  After some time here, she had me try something else with Eric.  He sat on the birth ball, his back against a wall and his legs spread apart.  With each contraction, I squatted between his legs and leaned back onto him.  It was hard at this point, but it did make me feel like things were progressing.  I kept thinking of something I had read, which said when I am in labor, 300,000 other women around the world are also with me in labor.  That was a mantra to me.  I kept repeating that number in my head and I loved thinking that we were all in this together.  It was about 8:00pm.

Rhoda had been monitoring the baby’s heart tones during my different positions and I didn’t know that she was seeing something a bit concerning for about 20 minutes.  She finally told me that the baby’s heart rate was staying too low in between contractions and she would feel better if we transferred into the hospital so the baby could be more closely monitored.  I completely trusted her judgment and although I faced a moment of disappointment that my baby would not be born in the cabin, I knew it was the right thing to do. She delivered her suggestion very calmly and then began to contact the hospital and the OB/GYN whom she partners with, Dr. Stroud.  We hadn’t prepared a hospital bag, so we started walking around the cabin, throwing things into a bag.  I threw on some clothes and a fuzzy robe to keep warm.  I didn’t feel scared.  It was all I could do to just stay with each contraction when it came and do whatever else I needed to do in between contractions so we could leave. I felt completely in the moment and this prevented any fear from arising.  Rhoda’s calmness through it all also helped me feel like there was no reason to be scared.  I asked Eric to be the one to tell my parents that we were going to the hospital, so he went and let them know.  He and I rode with Rhoda during the 20-minute drive to the hospital. During the drive, my contractions mostly stopped and I commented about it to Rhoda, who told me that the adrenaline has kicked in, which slowed down my contractions.

We arrived at Dupont Hospital around 9:00 pm and I was put in a wheelchair.  They pushed me through a hallway where there were lots of pictures of newborn babies lining the wall and those pictures gave me so much hope.  It reminded me of what all this labor was for and that I would soon have one of those in my arms!  We met Dr. Stroud in the elevator.  I had heard so many great things about him from many different sources, and he was so calm and nice right away.  I had even contacted him early on in my pregnancy, asking about midwives and he told me about Rhoda, so I reminded him of that.  Everyone at the hospital was calm and they moved very smoothly in all that needed to be done.  They set up a fetal heart rate monitor, put me on an antibiotic IV for my Group B strep, and checked my cervix, which was 6-7 cm dilated.  The baby’s head was at 0 station.  

During this time, a woman was by my bed on a computer, asking Eric and I questions to register us.  Contractions were really coming one after another and at this point, the woman asked me what my pain goal is.  “What?!” I asked.  “What is your pain goal?” she repeated.  I snapped back, “What the hell is a pain goal!?”  And she promptly replied, “I’ll put you down as an 8.”  It seemed like the dumbest question to me, especially in the midst of pain that I certainly could not think about rating.  It was all I could to do just make it through the pain and I did not want to come out of myself to think about answering such a ridiculous question!

Dr. Stroud wanted to break my bag of waters to see if there was any meconium in the amniotic fluid, which would be a sign of the baby’s stress level.  I asked him if it would make contractions worse and he smiled and said “I like to think it makes them more efficient.”  There was slight meconium in the amniotic fluid, but he said it wasn’t enough to worry about.  Breaking my bag of waters certainly did make the contractions stronger.  I had to lie down in the bed for him to break it, which was a horrible position to labor in, but the contractions were so strong and I wasn’t getting a break in between them, so I felt like I was incapacitated and couldn’t move to another position.  I felt like I was thrashing in the bed and I reached for anyone and anything to hang on to.  I swore I heard someone whisper the word, “c-section” and I felt so sad.  I silently began to mourn to myself.  After a few more contractions, I finally spoke up and said, “I heard someone say c-section.  Is everything ok?”  Dr. Stroud was surprised and he replied, “I didn’t hear that.  If someone said ‘c-section’ they must have been talking about someone else!”

Within 20 minutes of my arrival at the hospital, my baby’s low heart tones resolved itself, but I still needed to wear a wireless monitor.  Someone finally asked me if I wanted to get out of bed and I said I did, but I didn’t feel like I could move.  “Well we can help you with that!” they said.  So a few people helped me out of bed and I went into the shower, where Catie held the shower hose and sprayed it back and forth over my belly while Eric sat just outside the shower.  The water kept moving the heart rate monitor, so she kept spraying the water on the side of my belly, near my leg and I started to get annoyed at this because I wanted it on my stomach.

I remembered the squats that Rhoda suggested when we were at home, and there was a bench in the shower that I could lean into, so I kept doing those squats with each contraction.  I also used the bar in the shower to hold on to.  The IV in my hand came out around this time.  Dr. Stroud asked me if I wanted him to check how far along I was, but I was scared that I wouldn’t have progressed, so I answered, “Only if it’s good news.” He didn’t check me.

While laboring in the shower for about 30 minutes, I began to feel the urge to push with each contraction and my little team cheered me on.  Kristin reported that there was a table in the hallway with vaginal delivery supplies, so clearly nobody was thinking about a c-section.  I felt so encouraged when the urge to push came, because I knew this meant I was nearing the end; I was so tired.  I was also now getting some breaks between contractions, which gave me some much-needed rest.  Eric was just outside the shower, holding my hand and encouraging me.  Once, he touched my stomach and I really didn’t like that, so I pushed his hand away.

The urge to push kept getting stronger and stronger.  After a while, I felt like the contractions and pushing was like the movies, so I thought I must really be getting close, but Rhoda and Dr. Stroud were on the other side of the room, whispering to each other and they didn’t seem very concerned, so I was confused.  I asked Dr. Stroud to check me, so he came into the shower and soon told me that I was completely dilated!  He suggested we move out of the bathroom and I ended up squatting with my knees on the floor and my arms and chest on the bed.  Dr. Stroud said he could feel the baby’s head and he encouraged me to really push with each contraction.  A few people kept asking if I wanted something under my knees, as it must hurt for them to be on the floor, but it was the least of my worries.  I was so concentrated that I didn’t even notice, although the next day some big bruises showed up.  I just wanted to get this baby out! 

I was so hot and started sweating.  Someone began fanning me and someone else put a cold towel on my back.  It was awesome how they knew just what I needed.  It felt amazing.

The baby started to crown and Dr. Stroud told me I could reach down and feel the baby’s head if I wanted.  It was so beautiful to feel that and know how close we were to meeting each other!  He had me stand up and lean over the bed so he could catch the baby.  He also told me that since there was some slight meconium in the amniotic fluid earlier, the NICU team had to be present at the birth in case the baby needed assistance breathing, but if the baby cried, they would leave.

I had to give really big pushes now. Dr. Stroud told me to curl over myself with each contraction. I pushed as hard as I could, 2 or 3 times with each contraction.  I pushed even when I didn’t think I could anymore because I didn’t want to prolong labor any more.  Finally, I pushed the head out and I could see the head while looking in between my legs!  Dr. Stroud had me stop pushing for a minute and then another big push for the shoulders and the baby was out!

I instantly turned around and sat on the ground while they wiped him off and he cried.  I yelled, “Oh my god! Oh my god! Give me my baby!”  I wanted him in my arms ASAP.  I didn’t even think about checking the sex of the baby, but Eric announced that it was a boy!  Although we had decided not to know the sex of our baby beforehand, I had been convinced I was having a girl, so I was surprised!  They handed him over to me as quickly as they could and I held him while sitting there on the floor.  What a beautiful moment!  After a minute, everyone helped me get into bed with him.  His cord wasn’t very long, so he lay a bit low on my tummy.  When the cord stopped pulsing, Dr. Stroud had Eric cut it.

About 15 minutes after the birth, I delivered my placenta and they held it up for me to see.  I thought it was beautiful with all the veins running through it. I’m so glad they let me see it.

As I held my son and Eric stood beside the bed, we all made our own remarks about him, most notably that his eyes were wide open and alert. He was so magical and perfect! The staff asked us if we had a name and Eric and I looked at each other in anticipation of what the other would say.  We had talked about a couple of choices, but hadn’t finalized on anything.  Then Eric said exactly what I was thinking: “Leo Walker Kreutter”

Dying for New Life

I'm rarely in the US for the changing of seasons, so this week, as the snow melts and the weather starts to warm up, I find myself drinking in this transition into Spring. 

A couple of days ago, I walked around our yard to see what beauties of nature I could find.  I noticed a few straggling leaves on each tree - leaves who had refused their time of death in Autumn and instead clung to their life as they knew it on the limb. They had somehow made it through a brutal winter, still stubbornly hanging on.  But new life is coming soon, and these old guys are in for a big wake-up call when they'll be forced to finally give up the fight and let the new buds spring forth in their place.

I also have a new life on the way, set to arrive in about 6 weeks.  I've noticed patterns in my dreams, revealing the fears tucked away in my subconscious about all I must die to in order to let this new life really thrive.  Even as I write a list in my journal of these things I know I must let go, I feel a deep resistance to it all. To...

Letting go of a spontaneous life. Letting go of my precious sleep. Letting go of my body as I know it. Letting go of my youth.  Letting go of how I desire to use my time.

The wise have always told us that Death is always required if New Life is to enter, and all of nature seems to be telling me this, too.  I cherish the fact that my baby will be born in Springtime and in the Easter season - a whole season dedicated to New Life after a winter of hibernation and death.

Love in its fullest form is a series of deaths and rebirths. We let go of one phase, one aspect of love, and enter another. Passion dies and is brought back. Pain is chased away and surfaces another time. To love means to embrace and at the same time to withstand many many endings, and many many beginnings – all in the same relationship.
— Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Women Who Run With the Wolves
 

So I also write down all that will be brought forth if I choose to let go of the old and usher in this New Life.  I will gain...

A kind of love I've not yet known.  A growing relationship with Eric. An opportunity to question and learn and grow in myself. A connection with every other parent on the planet. An added piece of my identity.

I know I must let go in order to gain.  I look inward and tell myself not to be like those stubborn leaves, hanging onto their old lives and refusing to fall into what is.  So I let myself die to the old things in order to give birth to something entirely new.

Is there something you must die to in order to bring forth something new in your life?

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them.
— Ecclesiastes 3:1-5

Our next big adventure...

My husband, Eric, and I have taken several adventures together - from the traveling the Middle East, all throughout East Africa, and across America, exploring this world lets us also explore ourselves.  And next year, we have another huge adventure planned - one very different from setting off to a far-away place.  It is one of the most common, but life-transforming journeys of all time, so we've been told...

Next April, we're going to have a baby!

Remember that trip we took to Congo earlier this year?  Well, we spent one night in Rwanda before crossing the border into Congo and that night we found out the news for ourselves.  I felt blessed to have a week apart from my every day life, disconnected from the digital world, and relaxing amidst the stunning Congolese scenery.  It gave me a chance to process this big news, to reflect on what this new life will mean to me, to us, and what intention I wanted to take into the next 9 months.

The Journey of Birth is one of going deep within oneself, trusting the inner process, surrender (doing nothing), transformation, and bringing forth life from the temple of one’s own self.”
— Baraka Bethany Elihu,

I came back to Kampala knowing that not only was a new physical life gestating inside me that I'll soon give birth to, but a new identity for me as well - that of a mother.  Since that time, I've had a strong desire to wrap up in a cocoon and let this newness develop.  I've wanted to withdraw inward and start to carve away all that is unnecessary in my life.  It's been a great time to reflect on what is truly important and to make steps to keep those things close to me while peeling off what is redundant and not needed.

I have craved solitude and easiness of life.  Of course, the many physical changes have made me very tired and hungry, so I've just craved the time to give myself what my body wants - rest and nourishment.  I haven't exactly kept this promise of inward retreat to myself like I thought I would. The last few months have been very busy and I haven't had the time and space to wrap up in my desired cocoon, but the intention is still there, which is a big reason I needed my Weekend of Solitude - so I could come back to that hope.

A little tadpole - our 7 week ultrasound

12 week ultrasound

So, here we go!  We have this new, exciting adventure looming in front of us and there is so much to think about, to plan for, to contemplate.  There are things to learn and fears to face, but I anxiously await it all and I can't wait to take Toto* on our many adventures to come!

 

 

*Toto means "baby" in Swahili, a name we've decided to call the baby until the arrival, since it's much more affectionate than, "it"!