Following the Principles: Prepare for Pregnancy, Birth and Parenting

Part 1 of a series of 8.

“Look at this,” I mumble out of the corner of my mouth as I shove the white and purple plastic stick in Sir Hubby’s direction. The two younger kids are nearby and it is too soon to clue them in yet.

“Uh. What exactly am I looking at?” he replies, his tone already rising an octave. He senses danger.

“C’mon. Really?” I hiss. I know he has seen a pregnancy test before.

“No, no. I know what it is. I just don’t know what it says,” he confesses.

It says oops.”

And so begins our journey towards meeting Loin Fruit Number Five, or LF#5 as we like to call the little critter.

Of course our LF#5 is loved and wanted. LF#5 simply has shown up in our lives about three years too early for me and has forced me to confront some of my personal issues about responsibility and control. Our youngest, T-Bird, just turned one in March of this year…likely around the same time her little-sibling-to-be was undergoing some rapid cell division. This was, of course, right before I suddenly came down with a “mysterious flu-like illness” no one else seemed to have, which didn’t go away for about two months. Well, it hasn’t gone away even now that it is the middle of June. But at least now I know that I am not battling the flu.

All four of my children have a minimum of four years in between them. I, of course, have heard of (and even seen in person) women who have children closer in age. My cousin and his wife had their two girls close together and jokingly said that other people walk on fire…but that they decided to run through it instead. And I had friends growing up who were close in age to their siblings, and they did things like played together and subsequently grew up to be friends. Wait a second. My own mother had two children under two—me and my younger brother. So, okay actually, there are plenty of examples in my life. It just wasn’t for me.

I really loved having four selfish years with each of my babies and a fully-verbal, fully-potty trained, fully-weaned, fully-sleeping-through-the-night, preschooler to share in the joys of welcoming our new baby. I chose the spacing of my children to best match my particular style and comfort level with parenting. I have a tendency to become easily stressed, easily overwhelmed, and easily burnt out. All of my children have vastly different needs, and at vastly different times of day. They each tax their own particular set of mom resources in their own way. And clearly, telling two teenagers and a 6 year old to “hang on” or “ask later” when I am busy with the baby usually works pretty well since they have all reached (and hopefully mastered in the case of my teens) the appropriate developmental stage to do that, or even help out when required. Having one set of issues to deal with for each child made sense to me, rather than trying to spread similar resources between similarly aged children. I never planned to have more than one child under the age of four at the same time. And now I am going to have two under two.

So, that begs the question “How did we let this happen?” I have been pregnant before. The stork has never left anything in the cabbage patch for me. And, to top it all off, I am a doula, parent educator, and attend births as a midwifery assistant. You would think that I would understand how the whole thing works, and even recognize a few of the symptoms. So, did pregnancy even cross my mind? Not once. I’m not confused about the relationship between ovulation and breastfeeding. I know that even exclusive, full-time breastfeeding is not a reliable method of preventing pregnancy after the sixth month. I’m fully aware that ovulation can happen before your regular menstrual cycle returns. I am familiar with all methods of “birth control.” And to be frank (oversharing), with our busy lives, conflicting schedules, fatigue, full-time breastfeeding, and co-sleeping, abstinence is practiced around here more often than not. With all of this knowledge, I can’t help but feeling a little disappointed in myself. Surely, even if the signs of ovulation were very subtle, I should have been more responsible. If I wanted to prevent a pregnancy, then why was I not doing more to make sure that I didn’t get pregnant? Where does this attitude of feeling guilty come from? I am having a baby, not receiving a jail sentence! Why am I being so hard on myself for having a body that WORKS perfectly?

A local Fertility Awareness instructor, Kathryn Hamilton, includes this information on her website:

Women have gotten pregnant on every type of birth control out there, including tubal ligation. We need to change our mentality about fertility – our Womens Dietary Supplements for Fertility is to be AWARE of our bodies and of our fertility, and make intelligent choices accordingly.

Here is a passage from Lunaception by Louise Lacey (which Kathryn highly recommends):

“Today Western society …[has] a multibillion industry devoted to “birth control”. The term accurately reflects our characteristic attitude, which is to attack problems, try to control things. This is birth control we are talking about; women’s bodies, not street traffic. How it is possible to regulate or control a living body? Putting physical restraint upon a living thing sometimes means death and always raises the possibility of damage.

Our culture takes the attitude that the control of living things is both desirable and possible. The basic assumption is that we can run the show better than if we let the show happen by itself. We can do nature’s job better than nature – an amazingly presumptuous point of view. But we never do control anything. We only manipulate. And often destroy.

So, not surprisingly, in the name of birth control, we have more than a dozen ways to try to master nature. And because control doesn’t work, no matter how many people think it does, we have in more than a dozen different ways been unsuccessful at “controlling” birth.

If I follow in the footsteps of my mother, aunts and grandmother, it is likely that I only have a few more years of fertility remaining, and I would like to make some peace with my body before then. I would love to feel like we understand one another and have reached a place where we have a few moments of mutual respect before our relationship changes forever. Sir Hubby and I did want to have another baby…perhaps my plan of “controlling” it for another three years would have left me unable to have another baby at all. Perhaps I am just scared of not being in control. Perhaps the universe is sending me this new little critter at exactly the right time for our family. Perhaps I will discover all the joys that I have missed out on by having a large age difference in my children. Perhaps it will all be wonderful in ways that I have yet to imagine. Perhaps I can forgive myself for not being more vigilante about my own fertility cycle. Perhaps forgiving myself is a healthy place for my body and I to begin this journey together.

Preparing for pregnancy, birth, and parenting is a major part of my life. I teach it to other families. I preach it in the work that I do. I live and breath pregnancy and birth and parenting every single day. I didn’t think that I was prepared to be pregnant again so soon. But my body seems to think that we are doing just fine, or else it would not have had what it needed to become pregnant and continue providing milk for my T-Bird.

I’m growing a new life! In MY body! A baby! A real baby! Wow. Does that ever stop being miraculous?

I’m excited and scared and confused…all the things that expectant parents usually are. Having already had four children does not automatically prepare you for having a fifth. I wish I could feel confident and sure about every aspect of this, but this pregnancy is just as new to me as each one has been before it. Every pregnancy, like every child, brings with it unique challenges, and unparalleled joys. I hope to share those challenges and joys with you, API Reader, over the next few months. Will you please follow me as I reflect on each of the AP Principles as I prepare for LF#5? I’ll be counting on your insights, experiences and advice to get through things like preparing for tandem nursing, positive discipline for my toddler, co-sleeping tips for a bigger family, babywearing with a bigger belly (and a cranky back), responding sensitively to my family (and myself) when it all gets to be a bit much, providing consistency when so much is fluctuating, and of course finding some balance in all the chaos.



Author: justine

Justine Julian blogs at State of the Heart. Learn more about her work as a doula at JulianArts.

24 thoughts on “Following the Principles: Prepare for Pregnancy, Birth and Parenting”

  1. Love it! You are a really fun read!
    My ideal spacing is a minimum of 3 years which I did achive with my first two. We accidentally concived (like you) way too close together for the third, but it didn’t stick….and I was actually a little relieved, but sure that if it did we would make do just fine.

  2. My two are a little over two years apart and it works well for us. It did mean a couple of years of intense labor and not a lot of sleep, but now that they are almost 5 and 2 1/2, they are close enough to share friends and activities and we’re dealing with the baby/toddler/preschool stuff all at once.

    However, I don’t think I’ve ever met a woman who DIDN’T end up liking the spacing of her children, even if it was unplanned. There are pros and cons to everything.

    Great post and congrats on your pregnancy!

  3. Thank you for such an honest and interesting post.

    I only have one DD, she is almost 8 months now and I have not practiced birth control since she was born. I tried and it killed my milk supply, so I stopped. Mostly, I just don’t WANT to. I definitely want to have more kids, and I had trouble getting pregnant with her so I really don’t want to mess with my hormones any. And other methods don’t agree with either my husband or me. While I don’t really want another kid before she turns 2, I don’t want to mess around with controlling my body too much either.

    Congratulations on #5. I can’t wait to hear the rest of the story, and thank you for sharing.

  4. You are just what that baby needs, Justine. Go the walk, the extra mile, and I know you will always surprise yourself. You ARE that woman.

  5. Okay, Justine. I love you, and you know I do. I am glad that you’re not beating yourself up over an unplanned pregnancy, because that’s pointless. God knows that I know about not being able to prepare for a situation that you find yourself in, and I know the value of embracing the positivity of it. In your case, with LF5, you’ve got the most positive thing in the world to embrace: a healthy pregnancy, a lovely birth, and another darling baby to love.

    I say YES to fertility being positive. I say YES to understanding that birth control is not infallible. That said, I am in strong, strong disagreement with the the argument that I think you and the quotes you have chosen are making afterwards. The argument, as I read it, is that birth control is some kind of totalitarian or Orwellian method of controlling us and our fertility from the outside, at the potential expense of our own health. The leg the argument stands on is semantic: birth CONTROL, using control as a negative, something someone else is doing TO you. I don’t think that my body and fertility is something to be “controlled” by anyone but me, and so I have an IUD. I know that getting pregnant right now is not an option for me, and so I am taking the best steps available to me to prevent it. In fact, if I allowed “nature to take its course,” there is a very real possibility that the baby and I would both die. Is that the universe, or is that Darwin? Either way, I find the implication appalling that my choice is negative to do my best to prevent that from happening.

    Incidentally, birth control, in one form or another, is the prime instrument that the organization “Planned Parenthood” uses to allow women to get some control of their lives back. I don’t think anyone has a problem with the semantics of the name “Planned Parenthood.” Being pregnant all the time as a consequence for enjoying our sex lives isn’t good for most of us. Thank god for birth control, which allows 99.5% of us (in my choice of birth control) to choose to become mothers when we’re ready.

    I don’t think that anyone would argue that women’s lives were richer in the times before they were in charge of their fertility with, yes, hormonal methods. There’s also plenty of non-hormonal methods, though, that are available to us. DH and I used condoms for a few months after the birth of our son before my IUD was placed. If you CHOOSE not to use barrier methods (for whatever reason), that is a choice you’ve made. “Western women,” unlike many others in the world, are in a position where they get to make that choice and live with, or hopefully embrace, its consequences.

    I take major issue with the idea that since birth control is not 100% effective, it is somehow useless and therefore negative. This seems to elide the concept of “control” with that of “responsibility.” Carseats and seatbelts also aren’t 100% effective; we strap our little ones into them and we buckle up anyway.

    The statement that choosing to use birth control is negative is faulty at best, and quite offensive at worst. It throws out years of what women have worked for: that we don’t have to be pregnant if we don’t want to be, that we are now capable of making that choice, that our bodies and our lives belong to us and not the men that we choose to share them with or an interventionist universe that surrounds us.

  6. “Even though we have much in common, the AP community is diverse. Part of the goal of API Speaks is to treat everyone with respect — and give each other the benefit of the doubt that we mean well — even when there is disagreement.”

    I shared a very personal story about a very vulnerable time and an emotionally challenging situation in my life. I certainly meant well and can only trust that my post was read in the spirit of sharing a story about MY choices. With 26 years of fertility BEHIND me, not ahead of me, I have certainly had a long time to regret choices, try different things, and think about what my last few years of fertility will be like for ME. I certainly did not imply that anyone’s choices were negative…only that mine are positive and RIGHT FOR ME based on my situation, my research, and my personal feelings. I hope that all women are able to reach a peaceful place with their bodies…hopefully long before they have reached the place that I now find myself in.

    I encourage readers to learn more about Fertility Awareness, through books like Lunaception, or by participating in a class with a fertility instructor, and then draw their own conclusions about what THEIR comfort level is with taking charge of their own fertility.

  7. Hey, my second child was conceived 7 months after my first baby was born nearly 3 months early, so that would make my first baby only 13 months developmentally when her sister was born. And I was on the patch. And my husband and I still refer to it as the immaculate conception, b/c neither of us can recall anything more than abstinence that month.

    Ideally, I’d love 3 to 4 years between kids. 1 year was stressful! But it gets easier as they get older and can feed themselves.

    Before having my second baby, I was easily stressed and overwhelmed, too. It was a hard lesson, but having them so close together taught me how to relax a bit and cope with stress better. Just another way to look at the situation.

  8. Hi!

    This is my first time reading your blog and I’m looking forward to following along with your journey. I’m pregnant with my second little girl, the first will be exactly 2 yrs. when this one comes. I don’t have many if any friends/relatives who seem to desire this way of parenting and am always so thankful for the honest experiences and thoughts of others who desire to live in a connected way with their children. Thanks for your blog!

  9. What a great post! I wasn’t sure what to expect and was greatly pleased to read someone’s perspective being so positive. I was only able to read it in a (rare) free moment while nursing my 6 month old while my 2 year old and 3.5 year old are napping (very rare for the 3.5 year old!). So, clearly my husband and I can relate to the challeng of bearing children close together, and we have definitely had our struggles, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. It is only making me a better person, and yes, any spacing of children has its pros and cons. We came about with our children at these ages by using the sympto-thermal method of Natural Family Planning (NFP). Many would like to think this means the method failed for us, but I must inform the naysayers that we were simply open to the conception of a new life because we felt there was no serious reason to avoid a pregnancy and were comfortable with God’s plan for our family, whatever that may be. That said, NFP (which I imagine is much life Fertility Awareness, and of which there are a numbrer of methods, none of which is the “rhythm method” of the early-mid-1900’s), is as effective as any other type of birth “control” without the side effects (physical, emotional, psychological), without polluting our bodies with drugs, and without treating fertility as a disease or problem. NFP has helped so many couples dealing with issues from having to avoid conception for health reasons to infertility, from conceiving in light of irregular cycles to PCOS, and beyond. I encourage API readers to look into the method and its many benefits. Blessings!

  10. I am 42 and had my son wit limited stimulation insemination after 5 years of trying. I chose to wait to try again because he is breastfeeding. Now I am told that statistically my odds of having a problem are high. I would like to have another baby but it looks like one is it. Trying and failing to get pregnant is pretty rough, too.

  11. Hi there! Congrats on the pregnancy of your 5th child. I am a happy mom to 4 girls and my 1st and 2nd girls are 14mnths apart. Now I am not going to tell you that I planned it this way but it definitely has it’s advantages. They get along VERY well and imagine getting to attend story time with 2 children who are in the same age bracket. The first couple yrs was rough but I am sure you will do just fine. I also love telling people about elimination communication as a great thing to practice with babies. Best wishes, Rossana

  12. Amen Kelley! What she said…I don’t understand why the concept of “birth control” is discussed in a negative light here.

    No, it’s not 100% effective 100% of the time. But you can get pretty close. I know my personal limits, and with two healthy children I chose to get a Mirena IUD, which is even more effective than tubal ligation. I am so thankful that this form of birth control exists, I can’t even tell you. It works beautifully for me.

    And yes, I have had other birth control measures fail, and yes, I have dealt with the consequences of that.

    Societies where women have little or no access to birth control are also the societies where women have the lowest status, education, income, and life expectancy. Don’t knock it!

  13. Thanks for your comment, Laura. I am sorry that the quote I chose was not clearer in explaining that the important changes in birth control need to be in our attitude about our bodies, not necessarily in the methods we choose to get pregnant (or not). I urge you to read Lunaception, which is not anti-birth control, but anti-treating-your-body-like-an-enemy.

    “Lunaception can’t accurately be called a “system” or
    method of “control.” There is more to it than that. It
    is: a revolutionary frame of reference for looking at
    your own body; a biologically gratifying way to
    come into a personal balance with the universe; a
    tool for health; and, last but not least, a possible
    means to discretionary conception.”

    When we use birth control because we are fearful of what our bodies are capable of then that is a restriction that society has placed on us by telling us that our bodies are scary and gross and that we should hide and ignore our natural cycles. For two and half decades I allowed myself to believe that my body’s amazing abilities were icky. Instead of paying attention to changes in vaginal discharge, or mood, or energy levels, and recognizing them as signs that my body was entering one stage of fertility or another, I was embarrassed by my body and my lack of “control” over it. Same with feeling ashamed and grossed out by my menstrual cycle. I am the AP mother to three girls who I do not want to EVER have those feelings about their own bodies. I have to make choices that model that for my girls.

    Not everyone who uses birth control does it for the same reasons. I can only write about how I felt, the choices that I made, and include the quotes from sources which inspired me to change MY mind. If those same stories, and those same quotes, inspire you to believe more strongly in your choice, then I am glad to have provided that for you!

    More recently I had a Mirena for several years and enjoyed the peace of mind it brought to me, and it did not eliminate the cues my body was sending me about my fertility. Now, however, I have reached a point in my life where that level of “enforcement” is not something I want to ask my body to contend with anymore.

    Fertility Awareness Method (which IS a natural method of birth “control” discussed in Lunaception) FA method of birth “control” is NOT for women who cannot choose when to, or with whom to, have sex. It is not for women who do not have caring, loving, respectful partners who are willing to be 100% involved in daily choices about fertility. It is certainly NOT the method that would best serve women in less developed nations, abusive relationships, or who live in disempowering societies. It cannot work without a full understanding of women’s bodies. It cannot work if what you want is to “not think” about your fertility since it is a method which requires daily awareness of what the body is doing. As a society, I hope that we have reached a point where many (certainly not all) women finally DO have the status, education, income, and life expectancy to be fully aware of their cycles and to make choices that are best for them.

    Every women has to decide if not becoming pregnant outweighs the risks of her commercial birth control method. Thank goodness we have that choice. Personally, the warnings on most hormonal bc methods are frightening to me. I no longer feel that the risks are worth it for me or my family. If having babies is the worst thing that can happen to me because I misread my body’s signals or chose to ignore them, then I consider myself to be incredibly blessed!

  14. How unfortunate that one person’s outpouring of emotion on a topic can become a moral/ethical debate.

    Congratulations on a new miracle, Justine!

  15. Ever since I was a young woman who learned how hormonal birth control worked in Sex Ed, I have known that it is not for me. Neither were many of the other methods available. I even tried the patch with disastrous mood swings and quit after a week. It seemed to me that there was something philosophically flawed about trying to fool your body into think it was pregnant . . . that in my young mind, might have unexpected health consequences.

    So, as I became a woman, fell in love and married, we used only barriers. I didn’t know of any other ways. It was only AFTER my son was born that I realized there was a lost art (just like the lost art of breastfeeding) of fertility awareness. It clicked.

    If I knew when I was fertile, and when I wasn’t by familiarizing myself with my timing and cervical mucous, I could decide (without waiting for hormones to work their way out of my system, without visiting the doctor to remove an IUD, without reversing a surgery) to become pregnant or to avoid becoming pregnant.

    This knowledge should be taught in Sex Ed along with how to trust your body in Birth, basic breastfeeding (and it’s role in natural infertility), and many other topics. This is the knowledge that frees us from dependency on foreign objects and synthesized hormones . . . Which doesn’t mean that those tools are bad, but that we might find them less used if there was a greater awareness of fertility.

    Justine, you bless us with your story. Thank you for talking about unexpected pregnancies, acceptance, and that “control” is really an illusion in many cases. I’m sending good thoughts to you and your family + LF#5


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