Sunday, April 24, 2016

Calum's Birth Story

I am a sucker for birth stories.  Birth is/was a mystery to me and I am/was fascinated by it.  'Your body does what now?!'  It still is so amazing to me that people create humans and then birth them and then they grow into toddlers, then kids, then really is a miracle.

I'm mostly a private person (says the person with a blog...) but I want to share Calum's birth story because I enjoy when others share theirs so much, I figure it is only fair.  Please do read on if you're interested and not squeamish ;)

{Calum and daddy at 6 weeks!}

I, like many pregnant women, was over being pregnant and watched my due date come and go.  I had gained 40 pounds and it was hard to carry around all that weight.  Sleeping, sitting, walking, standing...all very uncomfortable and I could only tolerate doing each of them for short periods of time.  To top off my discomfort, I felt like every time I opened Facebook or Instagram someone had their newborn baby on time and their in arms.  Jealousy struck hard.

It was Saturday evening, March 12, four days after my due date and Andy and I were watching Downton Abbey.  We had been saving up some episodes to binge watch and we made it to number three by 11pm and I decided to go to bed.  I took sleep very seriously since everyone told me I wouldn't get any after the baby was born!

It was midnight by the time I was in bed and Andy and I were talking.  I managed to get semi-comfortable when I realized I had to pee again.  He said something to make me laugh and - oopsy!  "I think I just peed myself" I said to him laughing.  I made it to the bathroom and realized, hold on, I still had to pee.  I realized my water broke!  Of course there were doubts and "am I sure that was my water?" thoughts, etc that any first time mom goes through.  Then with a cramp, the very obvious mucus plug arrived and doubt was removed that something was happening!  I was excited but trying not to get too excited because I know that both of those things don't necessarily mean I'll go into labor right away.

Then contractions started, about 10 to 12 minutes apart.  They were not unbearable but I had to stop talking, lean forward and breath through them.  They weren't nothing!  I decided it was time to take a shower right away because if we were going to the hospital, I wanted to go as fresh as possible, knowing labor and birth would be a grimy affair.  In the shower I watched the clock as my contractions surprisingly quickly reached 5 minutes apart.  Andy had called Triage letting them know we'd likely be in in the near future.  Once I was out of the shower, blow drying my hair when I let Andy know how close and strong the contractions were and we should probably pack up NOW.

I was in super serious mode now.  The contractions felt like really strong menstrual cramps and I could not do anything during them.  They were about 1 min to 1 min 15 seconds long.  My legs shook during them and I started to get really hot and nauseous.  I grabbed my phone (to continue timing contractions), a package of frozen butternut squash wrapped in a dish towel, a roll of paper towel and a large tupperware and sat on the stairs while Andy packed up the car with our bags.

I get carsick normally, so I was dreading this car ride.  I was dreading walking to the car and also hoping that this was it and we would be admitted.  We arrived at the hospital at 3am (there was no 2am because of daylight savings) and I refused a wheel chair, realizing that sitting down was not comfortable for me to breath through contractions.  I preferred standing and leaning forward, clutching my frozen butternut squash to my chest.

I received my first cervical exam of my pregnancy in triage - um, OUCH! - I was 5 cm, 80% effaced!  Yes!  Andy called our Doula, Cara, to let her know we were staying.

They moved us into a room with a tub, since my birth plan was to not use pain medication and thought I would enjoy laboring in the tub for pain relief.  However, it turns out I hated the buoyancy that the water gave my belly so I spent almost no time inside the tub!  During labor I hated any kind of touching and the water felt like it was bear hugging me.  I did end up use the side of the tub to lean over a lot while laboring so it wasn't a complete waste for us to have the room.

I debated with the nurse about whether or not I wanted an IV in my hand and she talked me into it, in case of an emergency.  I was given the okay for intermittent fetal monitoring since I couldn't stand the fetal monitor on my stomach during contractions (again, couldn't handle being touched by anything).  The touch of the monitor made the pain go from being spread throughout my abdomen to just the very targeted spot the monitor was on me.  I stayed in hands and knees on the bed breathing through the contractions until Cara arrived.  I found that keeping my eyes closed and my towel in my hands on my mouth helped me deal with the pain.  It wasn't unbearable and it wasn't constant.  Both things that I was hoping for.  I wasn't suffering, just realizing I could handle it (months of amping myself up paid off!  Also years of yoga paid off, using my breath to breath through pain was pretty second nature to me).  It crossed my mind that maybe I should ask for an epidural just because, why not, but the timing never seemed to be right, I never felt like I had 'had enough' so I never asked.

I spent the next 10 hours moving around the room in different positions suggested by Cara.  Walking from one "station" to the next.  I found that moving and changing positions, again, helped manage the contractions pain and also helped my labor progress.  With the help Cara, I had found my labor ritual.  I can honestly say that without Cara, I don't think I would have been able to have this same experience since I wouldn't know the different positions to move into.  She was a big motivator and supporter and her presence gave me a huge dose of confidence.  It was so comforting knowing she was there for me and Andy, since this was a new experience for both of us.  By 3:30pm I was fully dilated and it was time to start pushing.

But then I sort of stalled out.  All this time I had breathed through the pain, breathing outward.  Suddenly, pushing required me to hold my breath and...well, push.  This is when I started realizing that I couldn't deal with this pain and discussed pain medication options with the nurse.  She basically told me, sure, I can get the epidural but it probably will not help with the pressure from pushing (which was the pain I was struggling with).  Well, okay then...I guess I'm just going to actually do this pain medication free!

My contractions had slowed way down, so far apart that I took cat naps in between them.  At the guidance of Cara, I started to move around the room again and that helped the contractions return a little better but it still wasn't enough.  I had been in the transition stage of labor for about 5 hours, making some progress (baby was moving down, he made it to +1) but it was really slow and they were worried that I would get too exhausted eventually.  Surprisingly I wasn't feeling exhausted or tired (or hungry) but I agreed that it was taking a long time.  (I previously read that typically pushing lasts no more than 2 hours.)  The nurse discussed giving me Pitocin to bring the contractions back and I agreed - finally we get to use this cumbersome IV that was jutting out of my hand.  I wasn't at all reluctant about using Pitocin even though it was medication because I had planned on using it a couple days later anyway for induction!

I was told that with the Pitocin I would have to have continuous fetal monitoring - dun dun dun.  That monitor hurt me so much!  I asked my nurse, Caroline, if she can please, please do intermittent, she was the only person who didn't hurt me when she checked baby's heart rate.  She said, well I can hold it on you (instead of strapping me up) but you have to stay by the bed, no more walking around the room.  DEAL!  I was standing at the side of the bed during pushing anyway, so there I stayed until Calum was born.  Caroline is a saint.  She posted up on the floor and held the monitor on my belly through birth and it was painless and beautiful for me.

Although I could feel that my team was with me the whole time, I was zoned in my own world and focused on breathing and moving that baby (I really feel like I could visualize and feel his progress, it was bizarre).  It was suggested that I get into the bed to rest since I was basically in a Goddess Squat for 3 hours.  No thanks!  I really didn't feel tired.  I was motivated and excited.  This is working, I'm not changing.  Once everyone realized I could hold a squat for so long they were cool with it, ha!  Caroline encouraged me to rest (while standing) during breaks even though I felt a lot of pressure.  When the Pitocin kicked in, I originally just continuously pushed, since it felt right but she reminded me pushes were much more efficient when they are accompanied by a contraction.  They also gave me oxygen to breath between contractions, which was pretty relaxing.  Cara was across the bed from me, holding onto my forearms since my squat was getting dangerously low and she was worried my arms would slip off the bed.  Andy stayed right next to me; they were both breathing with me and reminding me how amazing I was doing, progress was being made, he was almost here!!!  The doctors originally told me I would have to get into the bed once he was coming out and then they changed their mind and said I could stay standing for delivery.  However if his shoulders get stuck they would flip me onto the bed.  I don't know exactly what they meant by "flip me" onto the bed but whatever, I agreed.

Finally he was crowning and the doctor asked if I wanted to reach back and feel him.  I respond with what I thought was a reasonable "noooooo, I'll feel him later!"  Things happened quickly.  Head out.  Shoulders clear...and he was here!  I started to climb into the bed and every yelled "waiiit!  you're still attached"  Haha, right.  Once I was given the go ahead, I crawled into the bed, comfortably on my back, sitting upright for the first time in a day and a half and they put my screaming, baby boy into my arms.  Andy snuggled up next to us, we both were just staring at this tiny human - our son!  It was such an unbelievable and magical moment.  All the months of work growing this little boy, getting ready for him and the last day of laboring and he was here with us, making our family complete.  He is so sweet and innocent..and perfect!  Right from the beginning our hearts gushed with love for our Calum.

After a few minutes, Cara helped me adjust him to see if he would start nursing and he did immediately, which was incredible.  He was minutes old and he already knew what to do.  (*By the way, breast feeding is not easy and it turns out while we were being told we were doing it right, we weren't really good at it and he was still hungry so we went to lactation consultant on day three for help!  After about four weeks of feeding him with um, damaged nipples, feeding him is now pretty painless.)

That first night with Calum in the hospital was pretty surreal.  He was so sweet and amazing and snuggly and I didn't want to put him down.  I think I might have gotten a few hours of sleep in between staring sessions!

We later learned that after 30 years of practicing, our obstetrician had never done a 'floor birth' and Cara said the same, through all her births she had never been to one where the mother stood.  I think it is funny but I just couldn't fathom being in any other position.  I mean, gravity, right?  It just made sense to me and felt right!

Thank you to everyone for the congratulations, well wishes and kind words over the last few weeks!  We appreciate all the support and love <3 <3 <3

*A little backstory on my birth plan:  I decided relatively early in my pregnancy that I wanted to give birth naturally.  Before pregnancy, I knew nothing about pregnancy, labor, birth, raising kids and I didn't want to know.  I thought for sure I am getting an epidural.  I can't handle blood and I'm a can't deal with pain, bring on the drugs.  And then I did a 180.  Once I started learning about what your body can do, I realized labor and birth is a natural and athletic feat, I'm pretty strong and relatively fit, I think I can do this.  If labor gets here and I can't, I can always change my mind, no problem.  So I made a plan to workout throughout pregnancy  (more on what I did later when I share my pregnancy journal) to stay nice and strong and we also hired an incredible Doula, Cara Genisio of Ann Arbor Doulas, to help me during before, during and after labor.  Add in months of pumping myself up mentally, I think preparing really helped me stick to my plan!

*Another side story:  Contrary to what I had heard from other moms, the Pitocin didn't make the contractions any worse than they were before - phew!!!  They were stronger in the sense that they occurred more frequently than when I stalled out, I thought it was supposed to hurt worse.  But they stayed manageable and since it wasn't a constant pain, there was a break in between, though the break got shorter, it was always manageable.  At no point did I feel my insides were being "ripped" or I was being torn in half.  I'm sure some have that experience but I was thankful it wasn't mine!  The pain was pretty concentrated in my core, while my limbs, chest, shoulders and head stayed strong and painless.  Even when Calum was coming out, I was looking out for the so-called "ring of fire" and I while I definitely felt it, it happens so fast and you're kind of used to discomfort and pain in the nether regions at that point and you're sooo ready for that baby to be out of you and not just on his way out, you're kind of fine with the pain.  That sounds ridiculous but that's just where I was at.  Also, I liked being able to feel the progress and listen to my body which motivated and guided me, giving me confidence.  It was so amazing to fully experience birth and feel relatively in control of something I expected to be out of control of.  All in all, I felt like a rockstar and have a crazy new respect for all mothers.  Kudos, ladies, you're amazing!!!

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Crunchy, Salty (and Science-Inspired!) Chocolate Chip Cookies

This post has arguably too many photos for a chocolate chip recipe.  But this recipe was formed meticulously and scientifically and I have to respect all of the steps!  Each one is important.

A while ago, someone sent me this link, The Science of the Best Chocolate Chip Cookie by Serious Eats.  (Or maybe it was this link first which got me to Serious Eats, either way both great reads)  Satisfied with my favorite recipe, Wheat Flour Salty Chocolate Chip Cookies, I stored the Serious Eats article away until recently when I realized how much I love a crunchy, airy, more interesting but still salty chocolate chip cookie.  Crust, a baking company, in Fenton, MI has the BEST chocolate chip cookies.  But if you know me, which if you're here, you do ;) you know that I'd much rather make my own baked goods.  After eating the Crust cookies, I dug up this link, actually read it, even though it is insanely long, took a few notes and made a batch of cookies.  Determined to find a way to make a more "Crust-like" cookie at home.

My main take-aways from the Serious Eats article and the final Serious Eat's "Best Chocolate Chip Cookies" recipe are as follows:

- Chop the chocolate, don't leave it in chip form, or better yet, buy bar chocolate to chop and your cookies will have more intense/interesting chocolate flavors.
- Melting the butter not only allows for you to make chocolate chip cookies without planning ahead (leaving butter out to soften) but it makes for denser cookies, a win in my book.  If you use softened butter, and cream it with sugar as per usual, then you incorporate more air and have more lift in your cookies, which I don't prefer.
- Less mixing leads to a craggier texture.  The 15 seconds of mixing the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients truly is enough (because you get another 15 seconds when you add the chocolate, plus the inherent kneading that comes with transferring cookie dough to a bowl to chill overnight).
- Let the dough chill overnight, (almost) no exceptions.  This is easy to do with this recipe because there are a lot of steps and after you make the dough the last thing you want to do is scoop the dough and bake each batch...although this negates my claim that there is 'no need to plan ahead' with this cookie dough...although it wouldn't be the end of the world to make one sheet of cookies and let the rest chill and become more awesome overnight.  It just makes me sad when the dough isn't cold enough and the cookies run together...but this could be fixed by scooping one sheet of 'warmish' dough then putting in the freezer for 30 minutes or as long as you can wait and then bake your one sheet to eat right now, letting the rest of the dough chill overnight.  Oh yes, I have solutions for cookiE-mergencies.  That's a thing.
- Add more salt than you think is necessary.  Notice how anything 'salty caramel' or 'salty chocolate' just makes your mouth water?  There is a reason.  Add more salt and don't look back.

A few more things before I get to the recipe that I now use.  With 1/2 tbsp cookie scoop-sized cookies, this batch makes 93 cookies!!!  So our freezer currently looks like this:

Crunchy, Salty Chocolate Chip Cookies


2 sticks of unsalted butter (1 c)
1 ice cube
2 c flour
3/4 tsp baking soda
3 tsp salt
3/4 c white sugar
2 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla
1/2 c + 2 tbsp brown sugar
2 1/2 c chocolate chips (I like 3/4 c milk Ghirardelli chips + 3/4 c semi-sweet Ghirardelli chips)


Brown butter on medium-high heat in a sauce pan for about 5 minutes.  Take off of the heat and let sit for 15 seconds.  Then whisk an ice cube in and let sit for 20 minutes.

In a mixing bowl, use a handheld whisk together your dry ingredients (flour, baking soda, salt) and set aside.

In an electric mixer, use the whisk attachment to whisk sugar, eggs and vanilla for 5 minutes so it becomes airy, light and fluffy.

Use the paddle attachment to add the butter after it has cooled for 20 minutes - only whisk the butter for 15 seconds.  Add the dry ingredients and whisk for only 15 seconds.  Finally, add your chocolate chips and whisk for, you guessed it, 15 seconds.

Transfer your cookie dough to an airtight container and let it chill in your refrigerator overnight.  Once it is chilled, use a 1/2 tablespoon-sized scoop to into glorious cookie dough balls.  Freeze or store in the fridge.

When you're ready to bake, line a baking sheet, preheat the oven to 325 F and bake for 7 minutes, rotate the pan and bake for another 7 minutes - for a total of 14 minutes.  (For frozen balls, bake for 8 mins + 8 mins).

*For extra craggle, rip the dough ball in half and push the smooth sides gently back together before placing on your baking sheet.