The unbearable cuteness of being

Do you see what I have to contend with around here? Do you?? You can't swing a cat in here without hitting someone who's cuddling with a baby. Or a bunny. Or both!!
Nutmeg thinks Sam is another bunny. He may be right.
Other times, Teddies get buried in bears. 
And there is a great deal of (wild and stagger-y) hugging.

Why Midwives Matter

Every once in awhile I notice that someone has downloaded the "Home Birth Reasons" document I wrote up way back before Daisy was born, to set forth some of the thinking behind our decision to have her born at home. I keep thinking I ought to update that document, as it was all still hypothetical then, and the subsequent four births at home have given me new insights into why some of us make that choice. And, I guess I'm a little bolder about discussing it now than I once was. But I didn't get around to writing anything until I got asked to speak at the graduation gala for the Midwives College of Utah on the topic of "Why Midwives Matter." It was really enjoyable to have a reason to think these things over again; to ponder what it is that I am so drawn to about birth and midwifery; and to attempt to set forth my thoughts in a comprehensible form. I'm posting the text and slides from my talk below.

I hasten to state, as I often have before, that I hope no one will mistake my enthusiasm for proselytizing—or, worse, for disdain toward those whose circumstances and wishes surrounding birth are different from mine. I feel strongly that in an ideal world, mothers would have some choice about how they give birth, but those choices can and should vary just as personalities and situations vary. This is an explication of personal experience, and perhaps a plea for mutual understanding; no more.


Why midwives matter

The anticipation of birth is often used as a symbol that shows the triumph of life over despair and entropy. Gerard Manley Hopkins used it this way in a poem1 that first laments the modern world's lack of connection with nature and the spiritual, but then reminds us that amid darkness and alienation there is always hope for spiritual renewal. Hopkins uses the image of a mother bird, waiting, watching, and protecting potential life, to convey this hope. He writes:

"Generations have trod, have trod, have trod; 
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil; 
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil 
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
Yet for all this, nature is never spent; 
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things; 
And though the last lights off the black West went 
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs— 
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent 
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings."

To me, midwives embody this brightness and this watchful hope. The midwife's work is to stay steady through uncertainty and darkness, leading the way through it to light and rebirth. There are many ways that midwives matter to women, to society, and to the world at large, but though I've read and become convinced of many of those matters of public policy, I'm not an expert, and there are other, better, sources for that. So instead, I want to talk more personally about how midwives have brought life and light to me.


Belgian Sugar Waffles

When I was in high school, I got to go on a trip with my family to Belgium (after my brother's church mission there). Before we left, our neighbor Sister Hickman gave us $20 and told us to buy ourselves some gaufre. Gaufre are the famous Belgian waffles, which you buy hot and fresh from carts on the street all over Belgium. The first time we tasted them (right outside of the airport, I think), we were amazed. They were utterly unlike any waffles we'd had before. They had these little bursts of crisp caramelized sugar throughout, and a soft, light inner texture. SO good. Every time we saw another waffle cart we'd stop and buy more of them, saying, "This time we will use the money from Sister Hickman!" We must have bought "Sister Hickman's waffles" five or six times over while we were there. 

After we got home I thought I'd probably never get to taste something as good as those gaufre again. But many years later, we tried the waffles at this place in Salt Lake, and they tasted almost as good as the ones in my memory! I started thinking of finding a recipe to imitate them, but I read that you needed some special ingredients, and since we didn't have a Belgian waffle maker anyway, I never got serious about it.

Then for Christmas last year I got this double waffle maker (I love it! It keeps up with the mouths and mouths we have to feed around here!) and I knew it was time to pursue the Belgian Waffle dream.

It's true, you do have to order one special ingredient: this Belgian Pearl Sugar (not to be confused with the Swedish Pearl Sugar you use for these lussekatter—the Belgian version is in bigger pearls). Sometimes it goes on sale and then you should order lots of it. BUT—there is also an alternative. This blog suggested using sugar cubes rather than the pearl sugar. You just smash the sugar cubes up into large chunks and stir them into the batter. We tried this, and it tastes great, although I should warn you that the sugar cube chunks seem to melt a little more quickly than the pearl sugar, and so will make a bit more of a mess in your waffle iron. Nothing too terrible, though.

I'll get right to the point: there are lots of recipes online, some more time-consuming and pretentious than others, and all claiming to be the truly authentic, the superior, the time-tested. I suppose tastes vary, and perhaps the overnight rise or the special waffle iron really is essential for some people. But we have been happiest with the very simple recipe on the back of the box of pearl sugar. I think these waffles get closest to my memory of the waffles I loved so much in Belgium (and remember, in my memory they were a shining and golden and heavenly thing, so finding a recipe that lives up to the memory is a pretty impressive feat). And Sam chose these for his birthday dinner this year, so that tells you how much HE likes them. :)

Theodore (A Backwards Birth Story)

If this were a fairy tale, there would be something special about the seventh child; some great destiny he was marked for; some lucky or portentous star that danced in the sky at his birth. Of course we Nielsons are far too rational to believe in such things! But I will let you judge for yourself. :)

I've never felt like one of those intuitive souls who knows her baby before it's born—I don't even know beforehand if they're boys or girls, for goodness sake! And I quite like it, the surprise and excitement of it all, speculating and wondering which little glimpses of personality will turn out to mean something, and which ones won't. But, from the very beginning, this seventh baby seemed extra mysterious, even by my usual standards. He or she was a riddle, wrapped in an enigma, inside a mystery—or whatever it was Churchill said about Russia. I felt a bit guilty about the lack of time I'd spent really thinking about the baby or trying to communicate with him or her. After having felt the baby's flutters and kicks earlier and earlier each time with my previous pregnancies, suddenly this time I found myself at 20 weeks and still not really sure I'd ever noticed the baby moving. To make matters worse, when my midwife Cathy came over to do a prenatal checkup, she couldn't find the baby's heartbeat, which had never happened before. Sam and I went into the ultrasound a week later with a sense of slight worry, telling ourselves everything would be fine, but not completely sure that was true. Everything was fine, as it turned out, but the baby remained unusually elusive. It often took several tries to get the heartbeat at checkups, and while I did end up feeling lots of movement as time went on, I never had any sense of what the baby was like. There just didn't seem to be anything to grasp onto—baby wasn't unusually active inside me like Malachi had been, or unusually calm like Daisy had been; he or she didn't jump at loud noises like Junie had, or get the hiccups every night like Sebastian used to.

And then I wondered if the baby was already showing a personality but maybe I was just too busy and preoccupied to notice? Or if the baby could TELL that I was too busy to spend hours daydreaming about him or her, and he or she was offended and put out about such neglect and therefore refusing to give me a glimpse of who he or she was?

But the days just kept tumbling forward and I kept saying to myself: after this week I will have time to think about the babyafter Christmas things will slow downonce Sam's work deadlines are past I will definitely sit and commune with this baby. And when the new year came, I did make an effort to find some time to read my favorite birth book and ponder some of the symbolism of birth and think about baby names. There were quiet moments here and there, and I felt a bit more tuned in to the baby's presence. But I still couldn't believe the time was getting so close and I was feeling so unprepared. I didn't know what to expect about the timing, having had babies come everywhere between two weeks "early" and a week "late," but I did plan to start our school break the week before the due date, to give us a few days to slow down and clean the house and get settled into "ready for baby" mode.

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