Preparing for childbirth: The delicate dance between pushing out and letting go

Observing a friend struggling with, and complaining about, the last days of her pregnancy –constantly posting on Facebook about how she finally wanted her baby to make an appearance in the “real world,” listing details about all the activities she undertook in order to make this happen ASAP — made me reflect on the delicate dance that childbirth is. 

I get it. I’ve been there.

Ready to Push?

Feeling big — no, huge! Not being able to see my toes anymore, let alone tie my shoelaces. Feeling very swollen in the summer heat and out of breath after walking up the stairs to our apartment on the 4th floor. Rolling around on the mat in my prenatal yoga class feeling like a huge whale. Nights spent sleepless with heartburn, an active baby in the belly, and a bladder that never wanted to go to sleep.  

And then, there is all the excitement about finally getting to meet this tiny human being that you have lovingly and patiently grown in your belly for all these long months. The excitement about becoming a parent — for the first, second, third… time. There are all the people around you, asking when the baby is due — which does not really help or make waiting any easier — and so many other good reasons to finally push the baby out of your belly and into the world. 

But First…  

But there is another side to the story, which tends to be forgotten or at least does not enjoy a lot of spotlight.

A more delicate, more sensitive — even darker — side that might not be as limelight-worthy or Facebook post-worthy…a side, which in my opinion, is just as important as the “push side.”

It is the side that mindfully focuses on letting go.

On gentleness, on feeling, on making space for the baby to come into this world…and making space for what is to come and follow.

On becoming aware of and consciously reflecting what is transpiring inside of us: physically, spiritually, and emotionally. 

Facing Our Feelings

This includes facing our anxieties and deepest fears and doubts about birth and about parenthood, about our ability to “do a good job” at delivering and then protecting, nurturing, and growing this delicate, wonderful new being that we already love more than we could have ever imagined. It may also include acknowledging and confronting our fear of failure, our fear of pain, our fear of loss, and our fear of fear. 

Furthermore, it includes facing the reality that things are (again!) about to change tremendously. That not only our everyday life is about to get the next big overhaul, but also our whole universe: The way we relate to the world, and the way we relate to ourselves is going to drastically change.

It includes coping with our bodies changing — yet again — from the pregnant state to a postpartum state, which will look and feel very different from what we are accustomed to and from what we might actually enjoy or expect seeing and feeling. We might feel empty, tired, depleted, sore, and possibly a far cry from attractive and sexy for quite a while.  

I vividly remember mourning my “empty“ belly for several days following my daughter’s birth. It felt empty and somewhat sad to not feel my baby inside my belly anymore. While I was certainly very happy to finally be able to hold her and cuddle up with her in my arms, I missed this innate and exclusive feeling of connection to her.  

Bringing Together the ‘Pushing Out’ and the ‘Letting Go’

I believe that, in order to consciously and mindfully prepare for birthing our child, it is important to take the time to look at and ideally merge both sides of the equation: the “pushing out” and the “letting go.”  

The tiredness of being pregnant and the energetic eagerness to have baby out of my belly have certainly helped me tremendously in getting over my fear of giving birth and all the pain that would be — and certainly was — involved. However, being mindful, open, and receptive to the side of letting go, creating space, and facing anxiety, doubt and fear — even mourning during this transition — has certainly proven to be very helpful as well. I believe it might be one supportive part in the puzzle of alleviating or possibly even preventing feelings of the “baby blues.” 

So, I’m calling on all expecting moms: Take a deep breath and give yourself a mindful moment — and ideally many more — and some space to merge both ends of the continuum. By doing this, you will be giving your body, mind, and spirit a chance to holistically and soulfully prepare for what is to come instead of forcing it into birthing-action mode.

Photo source

Silent Heartbreak

I had a miscarriage when I was 24. It was one of the most devastating events of my adult life.

For three months, I was sick. For three months, I planned out the entire future of this little being nestled safely in my womb. I even had a name: Rose Marie Elizabeth. Then, at a routine doctor’s appointment, it happened. She couldn’t find the heartbeat.

I was told not to worry, “It’s not uncommon, but just to be sure, let’s schedule you for an ultrasound.”

“But.” I hate that word. It’s always a caveat to other things. It’s hardly ever a good sign. I love you, but … I brought this for you, but … Check’s in the mail, but … Things are fine, but … ”

Off I went for my ultrasound. I was laying on the exam table with a blanket wrapped around my middle, wearing a too-big, generic hospital gown in a quiet room, tucked away from the main flow of the clinic.

I should have known.

The technician was very kind, very gentle, and sensitive to the news he was about to reveal. I had no idea how to read the images on the screen. I could see a sack, but it looked empty. His face told me what I wasn’t brave enough to ask. “I’m so sorry,” he said, “these things happen. There’s nothing you could have done. It’s not your fault.”

I don’t remember changing my clothes or walking out of the clinic, but I remember sobbing in the car as though my soul had been shredded from my body.

They told me that it could take up to two weeks for my body to have the miscarriage. I was in agony. My mind was tortured by the thoughts of what I was carrying around inside me. Of the life I had so lovingly planned just a few moments before. Now it was nothing but shambles around my feet. Everything felt broken: my mind, my body, my life, my baby, my dreams.

Two weeks later, I felt the first pain. It came slowly at first, very far apart, and just like regular labor, it gradually increased in speed and strength and length. I drove myself home from work but shouldn’t have. I don’t remember anything but thinking I was going to die.

It was just like giving birth except there would be no baby at the end of all the work.

I couldn’t do it. I was literally a shaking lump of tears on the bathroom floor. Somehow, I managed to get the phone to call 911. The woman on the other end was soothing, and I felt safer.

I ended up in the hospital Emergency Room that night. Unfortunately, the nurse was cruel and unsympathetic to what was happening to me and the obstetrician was busy with happier things upstairs to pay much attention to me. Two residents took pity on me, giving me a warm blanket and a shot to numb the pain. They offered simple but powerful kindness by touching my knee and stroking my hair as I cried. Twelve hours later, it was over. The obstetrician examined me, and I was sent home.

I had no idea how to heal. Is time my only option, because sitting in that murk and disillusionment would have killed me.

I decided to go to the book store to find a book about miscarriage. I was standing in the grief section trying to find something that would work for what I was feeling. Nothing. I went to the death section. Nothing. I went to the self-help section. Nothing. There was nothing for me. I’ve never felt so completely alone. Dejected, I sat on the little stool meant to help people reach for the higher shelves and just cried. I cried for my baby and for me and for my hopes and dreams that seemed so very far away. And I cried, because I was angry that happiness had been ripped away from me.

As I was leaving the bookstore, I passed by the baby section—where all the “new mom” books are, the cute baby faces in cute baby clothes, where all the happy families hang out. At first, I was going to keep walking because the thought of looking at what I had just lost threatened to unravel my last thread of strength. But something inside me told me to be brave, to just look up, to look at the titles, that it’ll be OK.1405283_85836809 purple flower

I picked up a book about natural pregnancy. It was called Immaculate Deception. I don’t know why I picked it up. Maybe it was the word “deception” since that’s how I felt. Or maybe it was “immaculate” because the word held a promise that better times where ahead. Whatever the reason, it was the book that would lead me to my two beautiful home water births. It was the inspiration for finding my power as a woman. It planted the seeds of expectation: that we all deserve a respectful birth which empowers us and celebrates our strength, within in a culture that respects our choices.

At the time, my miscarriage was one of the most painful events I ever went through. It took me months to physically recover and years before I recovered emotionally. But I believe everything happens for a reason, even our darkest moments, and if we can be brave enough to just look up, we’ll be fortunate enough to discover what that reason is and be better for knowing.

*Originally published in the New Baby 2012 edition of Attached Family. Click here to access past issues of Attached Family. If you are not already an API member, you can join now for free by using the link provided on the Attached Family page.


A Tribute to My Father

My father was a mystery to me.  He had issues of his own that I really never understood until after his death in 2003 when I had the wisdom to see him as a person separate from his role as father.  He grew up during the Great Depression — born October 5, 1929 —  his birthday month ringing in the Crash; his family lost everything. He had to sleep in the enclosed porch of his Southside of Chicago home, as his parents had to have boarders to makes ends meet.


My father stopping to smell the roses on my wedding day


My father’s father was an alcoholic –a singer and musician who played in Chicago nightclubs. Some nights he was funny and charming, other nights cruel and mean. I think of my father as a little boy and imagine what he may have gone through.


There is a story that breaks my heart and a story only told to me by my mother, with direct instructions to never let my father know I knew.  My father, 6’3, black curly hair, green hazel eyes, filled with pride of his first car, eager to share his pride with his own dad. My father must have been 16 or 17.


Instead of sharing in this proud moment, my father’s father berated him, cutting him down and assaulting him with insults about his crappy car.  All my father wanted was his father to be proud of him.


My mother told me this story once to help me understand my dad.  It made me sad to think my father went through that.


My mother also told me this is why he bought me a royal blue 1970 Volkswagen Karmann Ghia in mint condition when I was 16 years old.  Man, that car was cool! And I will never forget the pride in my father’s smile when he showed it to me, surprising me by ushering me outside to have a look.


Betty and John were special people. Anyone that ever met them knew this. They were storytellers and magicians. They made people feel good. Sure, like everyone, they had their problems, but deep at their core, they were the pot of gold. My magic - my love.


My mother didn’t tell me this story until I was in my late twenties. My dad was an alcoholic and quit drinking cold turkey when I was born. I imagine he drank to tame his demons from childhood and from the war.


He fought in the Korean War.  He was a member of the Frozen Chosen, the Battle of Inchon, where he saw thousands of men murdered. It was so cold during this time that men’s eyeballs froze — their own tears icicles upon their own eyes.


I never was able to look at this as a reason for his own depression and anger.  At times, he was down right frightening, flying off the handle in a rage I did not understand as a child nor a young adult. He did not physically abuse me, but there was mental abuse at times.


The thing is, now as a parent, I am able to forgive him and understand him.  I love him and honor all the good about him.  He went to work everyday to support his family and had a boss that berated him and put him down.  He brought me home paper to draw on as a child from the bank where he worked as a security guard downtown Chicago.  He worked the second shift and never missed a day of work.


I think of him struggling to drown his depression and sorrow in a bottle, but he never did.  He soldiered on.  I imagine him discussing the horrors of war and his own childhood with his therapist, a very kind man he saw for many years.
My dad during the Korean War on a ship. He was a Marine.


I think of my father marching out of Inchon, knowing in his heart there was a family waiting for him on the other side of this awful war he witnessed.  Somehow, he knew in his heart that our family would make him whole even though he had not met us.


It would be almost twenty years after Korea that he would meet my mom.  They would go through so much.  The first night my parents met, he told her everything about his past, including the sad story of his father assaulting him with insults the day he showed off his first car.


My dad in Korea. He was a member of the Frozen Chosen who fought in Inchon in the Korean War. He is buried at Arlington Cemetery.








My dad and his friend from Korea. This man called me shortly after my father died. He told me a story of how my father saved his life and how my father's thick head of black curly hair stuck out of foxholes because he was so tall.


Now that I am a mother myself and understand how overwhelming it is to be a parent at times, I have so much respect for my father for not continuing the cycle he saw.  He did the best he could and he was torn up from war, childhood, and a hard life.

My father and I on my wedding day, November 23, 2003. My father has cancer and my husband and I got married in my parents' bedroom so he could give me away.
Photos from my wedding


So instead of remembering the bad things and his imperfections, I remember the kindness and courage I saw on a daily basis.  He taught me so much and I just wish I had the opportunity to tell him that I am proud of him.


My dad around Christmas time 2002 -- his last Christmas
He died 9 years ago in the middle of the night, technically December 11 at 4 am holding my mother’s hand. December 10, 2003 was the last time I saw him and had to say goodbye to the father I loved for 29 years.


Death sucks, but it is a part of life.  But you see I miss him. I miss him, and as grief has numbed the loss – a hole that death leaves, gaping in concave fragments of the heart, a sense of longing has replaced this. This sense of missing him, knowing he is gone.


I miss him.


I miss seeing the veins on his hands, crossed in a holding pattern on his lap, a cigarette always tucked puffing solo in his lips. I miss his morning silence and two cups of coffee minimum rule: “Don’t talk to me until I’ve had my coffee.”


I miss him.

I miss watching his gait, heavy to the left, limping, shifting the weight in stride to his other leg — the leg I now know had significant damage from frostbite from Korea. I miss his odd sense of humor and his incredible intelligence. I miss how he could talk to anyone. I miss his pride. I miss his pats on the back and how awkward he became when I insisted on hugging him.

My dad smoking his cigarettes thinking. I miss him.

I miss him.

I miss the way he could pack a car, no matter how large with flea market finds. I miss his Cuban wedding shirts. I miss his scarves which he always called mufflers and reminded me to bundle up on cold Wyoming winter nights before I left the house. I miss his anger, sometimes dark and black. I miss his garden and the flower pots he filled them with — stacked in neat rows around the brick wall around our house on Maxwell. I miss seeing him peaceful with dirt in his hands.

I miss him.

I miss the way he wrapped his shoelaces around his ankles, tying them pragmatically in double knots as an old man. I miss his grey hair comb over. I miss his kindness and Irish pride. I miss smelling Corn Beef and Cabbage every St. Patrick’s Day. I miss the strong scent of coffee in the kitchen of our home. I miss having a hell of a hard time trying to buy him the perfect Christmas gift.

I miss him.

I miss his voice and his ability to speak only when necessary in a conversation. I miss his knowledge and the statistics he could whip out on any baseball team in this century or the last. I miss that he could give the biggest compliment to me through a third person like when he told my best friend Heidi that she had to make sure I write because it is in my blood — “Make sure Megan writes; she is a writer — a journalist a poet. She is related to Percy Bysshe Shelley, you know? Make sure she writes — it is in her blood.” I miss his smile, sometimes rare and sometimes wild.

I miss him.

I miss watching him read thick books and biographies. I miss startling him if I walked up on him unexpectedly, giving me a sense he knew fear in the strongest sense of the word and I miss the sense of relief he had when he knew it was me. I miss his car — a long maroon Lincoln Continental plastered with proud Semper Fi bumper stickers.

I miss him: John Shelley Miller, my dad — the first man I ever loved.

Photo Title: "Fence" -- I send messages to my father through the birds. Cardinals deliver same day mail. My father loved cardinals and I can't help but think he sends me messages back when they whistle by me. My yard in North Carolina is filled with cardinals. I see one weekly -- at least.


My thoughts and prayers go out to the families and community of Newtown. There are no words, only grief.

Motherhood: The New Frontier

I kept detailed journal entries in graduate school for an independent study course on motherhood I designed while my son was a baby. It was called, Motherhood: The New Frontier.  I picked five books to read, and basically had free reign to write whatever I wanted to about motherhood.  Well, to say the least, these journal entries are raw, edgy, hopeful, honest, vulnerable, and loving (and about a dozen more adjectives).  These books on my reading list helped me realize I was not alone with my struggles.

My journal entries eventually turned into a book of my own. One of the themes of my motherhood memoir is the fact that I was practicing Attachment Parenting without even knowing it.  AP is flexible and you can adapt the 8 principles to fit your family’s needs.  People are up in arms about AP and the recent Time magazine cover.  I really don’t understand all the hoopla and outrage, but the Mommy Wars are a real thing. I’m a lover, not a fighter.

Motherhood is beautiful, ugly, difficult, easy, complicated, simple, textured, smooth, heart-breaking, heart-pounding, and one of the most complex relationships.

Mama and baby moose in Yellowstone, Wyoming

My road to motherhood was not easy; I struggled with infertility, postpartum OCD and intrusive thoughts, postpartum depression, breastfeeding, co-sleeping, and anxiety.  As they say in the South, I was a hot mess.  The thing is, nobody really talks about how hard motherhood is.  In fact, it is a taboo subject.  I guess it is easier to talk about the joys and blissful moments instead of talking about nipple scabs, cracked nipples, sleep deprivation, and all the other dirty little secrets mothers live through.

My little miracle. Hard to believe something as wonderful as being a mom can be so downright terrifying at times. —  Photo by Sara Turner

I remember calling my friend, Debra Elramey in tears saying, “Debi, my boobs hurt.”  My milk had just come in.  I was not told it would feel like the lower falls of Yellowstone were dammed in my breasts.

Yellowstone Falls, Yellowstone, Wyoming

I was hunched over the passenger seat of our green Jeep  in the parking lot near the super strip mall and my husband was getting me a Subway sandwich.  I was trying to be strong, and the baby blues were coming on something fierce.  Ben was sleeping peacefully in the car seat, probably a week old.  Debi said, in a voice only a good friend can emulate, “Honey, you’re engorged,” she paused while I cried, then said, “You need to get a pump.”  I was like, “What is engorged?”

Debi explained the situation and what I needed to do. I got a free hand pump from the city’s lactation consultant that spent ten minutes with me the next day.  She said, “Yep, you got this, you’re doing it right,” as if I were some tick mark to check off on a list.  I wanted to call her out and say, “Lady, I think you are mistaken — I have no f-ing idea what I am doing! Please sit your a– back down on my couch and please don’t leave.”  Instead, I just kept a stiff upper lip until she left and then I cried.  My next call was to the La Leche League.

Breastfeeding was hard.  My nipples were scabbed, bloody and every time my son latched on, it felt like, well, I can’t remember what it felt like because I was so sleep deprived.  I did not prepare for this. In fact, I winged it.  I was not aware of attachment parenting and the first principle, Prepare for Pregnancy, Birth, and Parenting.  I guess I was like a deer in headlights while I was pregnant.  It never really sank in that I was going to be a mother until I was a mother.

I eventually got the hang of breastfeeding.  In fact, I am still nursing my two and half year old.   My support came from women in a nursing mothers’ group that the lactation specialist from the hospital organized. It was great to be around women who were struggling with the challenges of breastfeeding and motherhood.

My friend, Debra, also came over to my house and sat with me as I nursed my son.  I kept asking, “Am I doing it right?”  She responded, “You’re doing it, so therefore you are doing it right.”

It wasn’t until I allowed myself to follow my instincts and relax that I realized there is no manual to being a mother.  I just followed my heart.

I carry him in my heart. Photo by my wonderful husband.

[i carry your heart with me(i carry it in]

By E. E. Cummings

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
                                                      i fear
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you
here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)
My son and I in a recent photo