Flats and Handwash Challenge, Day 5: What I Have Learned This Week

I am taking part in the Second Annual Flats and Handwashing Challenge hosted by Dirty Diaper Laundry.  For 7 days I will be using only flat cloth diapers and handwashing them in an effort to prove that cloth diapering can be affordable and accessible to all.  You can learn more about the rules and why this challenge was started by visiting the announcement post.  This year there are over 450 participants from all over the world! 

‘There are still 2 more full days left of the challenge after today, and I will continue to participate, but I will be taking the weekend off from blogging (I also have a diaper-making workshop to run tomorrow!), so this will be my last post about the FHWC (until next year, assuming my baby doesn’t potty-learn by then!).  Although I participated in this challenge last year, I changed things up this year (partially due to what I learned from last year) and made even more discoveries!

  • So, first of all, I learned that handwashing diapers takes even less physical labor than I thought — and this is after already participating in this challenge once before!  I was able to get my diapers very clean with just some swishing with the laundry paddle, and a good long hot soak in the tub (<–that always makes everything better, doesn’t it? ;)).  No more standing hunched over the sink, scrubbing away with the washboard.  (I should mention that I have a bad back.)
  • Having less diapers than last year meant I had to wash more often, but that, in turn, made the act of washing take less time (and thus less physical energy).  Even though the blankets I used were much larger than the flour sack towels of last year, the new, lazier 😀 way I washed them made it seem like even less work anyway, so it didn’t matter!
  • By sitting on the edge of the tub with the laundry paddle (like paddling a canoe!), I was able to switch sides when my back started to hurt, thus evening out the strain.  The soreness from the handwashing was not as bad as it was last year at the sink, where I was hunched over.
  • By incorporating a soaking period (which I do even when using the washing machine), it not only required less actual agitation (and no scrubbing!) on my part, but it allowed me more freedom with my time.  It took about 10 minutes to get everything set up for the soak.  Then I was free for a few hours.  Then it took about 20 minutes to do the rinsing, wringing, and hanging.  Then another several hours of freedom.  Finally, another 10 minutes to take them down and fold/put away.  AND, unlike baking bread, you can actually leave your house between the 3 stages of work!
  • I have once again proven to myself that it is very much possible to use cloth diapers very little start-up cost AND no washing machine.  Unlike last year, when I said “maybe” when asked if I would consider doing this full time if I needed to, my answer now is ABSOLUTELY!  This kind of thing can seem so daunting from afar, and I know a lot of people think those of us who are participating in this challenge are nutso, but it really isn’t as bad as they think.  It just takes a little dedication.  And with the rewards of using cloth, no matter your initial reasons (our initial reason was sensitive skin and going broke diapering twins!), what’s not to love?  You are saving thousands of dollars AND helping protect the environment!  I don’t know about you, but those two things are VERY high on my priority list.  A little extra back strain and time out of my day for something I love and think is important?  Of course.  🙂

Click the link below to see what other participants have learned this week!

Flats and Handwash Challange, Day 4: How I Handwash

I am taking part in the Second Annual Flats and Handwashing Challenge hosted by Dirty Diaper Laundry.  For 7 days I will be using only flat cloth diapers and handwashing them in an effort to prove that cloth diapering can be affordable and accessible to all.  You can learn more about the rules and why this challenge was started by visiting the announcement post.  This year there are over 450 participants from all over the world! 

Last year, I used the “sink with hands” method.  This year I have tried something different: the bathtub.  I did a combination of a laundry paddle for agitating, and my hands for wringing.

I am using a “wet pail;” a 5 gallon bucket that I had run some water into.  I keep the bucket in the bathtub and run a little more water into it every time I add a dirty diaper.  This is how I washed them on Tuesday (Day 2):

I dumped the whole thing into the bathtub and let it drain out a bit, all while filling the bucket with clean cold water.

Then, I poured the bucket of clean water over the lump of wet, dirty diapers, as sort of a second “prewash.”  I squished them with my hands to help squeeze the water out.

Then, I turned on the water as hot as it would go, plugged the drain, and added All Free & Clear (up to line 2), about 2 tablespoons of Oxiclean, and a capful of Calgon water softener (we have hard water — my nemesis!).

I used my wooden laundry paddle to swish and stir the diapers around so that the detergent was mixed in well in the water and the diapers.

Then we went on a playdate.  🙂

When we got back, the dipes had had a good soak, and the water had cooled to room temperature.

I’d had my washboard ready, but the nice long hot soak had been sufficient, even for the one dipe that was pooped in (I had rinsed it before tossing it into the wet pail via the “dunk and swish” method in the toilet).  So, I just gave the whole lot a good swishing again with the laundry paddle.

Last year, I scrubbed everything, and it was very hard on my back.  This year, I wanted to find the laziest way possible to get the job done, and I figured that the swishing, soaking, and more swishing would be sufficient for the pee dipes and wipes (and the one PUL cover I used for overnight).  Seems like it was more than sufficient, even for the poopy one!

I then unplugged the drain and let the water drain out, and wrung everything out, plopping it right back into the shallow end of the tub.  I then turned the water on as hot as it would get, re-plugged the drain, added about a cup of white vinegar, and let it fill (about halfway).  Swish again for a minute or so, then let it drain.

Repeat rinse, only this time, no vinegar, and warm water instead of hot (I didn’t want to burn myself when I picked them up in the next step!).

After draining the water out, I picked each item up and wrung the excess water out.  Then I put them all in a basket and hauled it outside to my wooden rack.

I snapped the dipes out, and hung stuff up as best I could, considering that most of the “diapers” are several inches bigger than the bars on the rack.

A few hours later, they were dry, and I could fold them up and put them away.  🙂

This method takes about 5-6 hours from start to finish (depending on how long the soak is and how fast things dry), but the actual work takes only about a total of 45 minutes, divided into 3 different segments.  (It reminds me of baking bread!)  It is less physically demanding than the way I did things last year, so that is good.  Now hopefully we don’t develop a stink, or I will have to tweak this method.  If I was doing this full time, I might boil the diapers occasionally to remove bacteria and build-up.

~ Michelle

*Click below to see other participants’ thoughts on handwashing!*

Flats and Handwash Challange, Day 3: How I Use My Flats

I am taking part in the Second Annual Flats and Handwashing Challenge hosted by Dirty Diaper Laundry.  For 7 days I will be using only flat cloth diapers and handwashing them in an effort to prove that cloth diapering can be affordable and accessible to all.  You can learn more about the rules and why this challenge was started by visiting the announcement post.  This year there are over 450 participants from all over the world! 

So as you may know (from yesterday’s post), I am using (rather crudely) homemade cotton flannel swaddling blankets as my flat diapers.  And, in yesterday’s post, I pretty much told you how I am using them.  But let’s take a closer look:

*This is one method of using the blanket-diapers.  I have to tweak the method depending on the blanket because they are inconsistently sized.*

I have a large square of fabric.  I fold it into quarters, placing it with the edges at the top and one side.

I fold the front corners over so that the wings in back are still at full length(/width?) and the front corners touch the other side at an angle.

I lay the baby on it, and fold the front flap up between her legs.

I gather the sides so that they overlap in the middle, and pinch the flap and wings together between my fingers and thumb.

I use the other hand to put my super awesome, super sharp, locking diaper pin in (I have been holding it in my mouth this whole time).  I secure the pin, through all three sections (12 layers of flannel), and voila!

I pull the wool soaker over it all and we’re done.  🙂


*Click the link below to see how other participants are using their flats*

Flats and Handwash Challenge, Day 2: What Supplies Am I Using?

I am taking part in the Second Annual Flats and Handwashing Challenge hosted by Dirty Diaper Laundry.  For 7 days I will be using only flat cloth diapers and handwashing them in an effort to prove that cloth diapering can be affordable and accessible to all.  You can learn more about the rules and why this challenge was started by visiting the announcement post.  This year there are over 450 participants from all over the world! 

Last year during the FHWC, I used flour sack towels and Thirsties covers.  This year, I have decided to change things up a bit, because when it came time to experiment with folds and such, I found that my baby has grown quite a bit over the past year, and I was finding it difficult to figure out a way to use those old flour sack towels in a way that would be effective.  I really wanted to be able to use my regular wool covers, but that requires using a fastener on the flat.  I absolutely loathe Snappis, by the way.  My baby is now 18 months old and weighs about 27 lbs.  I couldn’t for the life of me figure out a fold that would give enough rise and enough absorbancy where it counts and still be able to be fastened with a Snappi or pins.

So, my solution?  Receiving blankets.  Well swaddling blankets, actually.  I have quite a few swaddling blankets that I made last year for my big baby who liked to be swaddled up until she was about 10 months old.  I couldn’t afford those lovely Aidan & Anais ones, which were the perfect size for a big baby (and nice and thin, so they aren’t too hot), so I took it upon myself to be resourceful and try to solve my problem with things I already had on hand.  Fabric.  Soft, cotton, flannel fabric.  I was not interested in anything fancy, so I simply took a pair of pinking shears and cut large rectangles of flannel.  I was not too strict with the measurements, either.  Most are 36″x45″ (a yard cut of standard fabric, with selvages intact).  I washed them and trimmed the strings off, and now they have soft, fringey edges.

I had made about 6 of these swaddling blankets, and as I sat pondering what to do about my dilemma with the flour sack towels, they popped into my mind.  I have recommended folks using receiving blankets as flats before, because 30″x30″ is a standard size for both blankets and flat diapers (genius?).  The 30″x40″ ones are even better for a larger baby, because they can be quarter-folded and used just like a prefold.  The blankets I made are a bit larger than that, but I figured I’d try them out and see if I could make them work.  I found that quarter-folding them and then laying my baby on them with the longer part horizontal (unlike with a prefold, where the longer part is vertical — running up and down the child’s body) works great.  This way, the rise was not too long for her, and there was plenty of room for a fastener.

I brought out the diaper pins (like I said, I detest Snappis).  With some of the blankets, I am even able to get away with one pin in the middle, since there is enough fabric on either side to overlap in the middle, and I just pin through all 3 sections (which ends up actually being 12 layers of flannel, but my pins get through it easily).  Yes, there is a lot of extra fabric, and if I were to use this as my regular diaper system, I would take some measurements and trim the blankets down to a more practical size (and zig-zag the edges for a cleaner look, like the one pictured above).  But for now, I’m leaving them be. I liked the way this worked so well that I went to my sewing room to pull out more flannel and make more of these swaddling blankets!  I think I now have an even dozen.  Perfect!

The best part of this (other than there is a lot more absorbancy and softness than the flour sack towels) is that I get to use my wool soakers!  And the extra fabric is no biggie, because the way my soakers are made, there is a lot of coverage of the bum and upper thigh, so all of that fabric the blankets leave around the legs fits just fine under the soakers, even though I do tend to tuck some of the excess blanket in with my fingers after pinning.

Oh, and another best thing: such adorable “diapers!”

Other than the blankets and wool soakers, I am using my flannel wipes (most made by me, some out of the same fabric as the blankets) with my homemade wipe solution (1/4 cup each of Dr. Bronner’s Lavender Castile liquid soap and organic olive oil, filled up to 1 gallon with water).  For the handwashing part, I have an old-fashioned washboard (like the one pictured below) and 2 wooden drying racks (like this one). Last year I used old-fashioned lye soap to wash with, but this year I think I will try actual laundry detergent (All Free & Clear is what I’m using these days).

~ Michelle

Click below to see what supplies other participants are using!

The 2nd Annual Flats and Handwash Challenge, Day 1: WHY Am I Doing This?

Last year, I participated in the 1st Annual Flats and Handwash Challenge, hosted by Dirty Diaper Laundry (you can read my post about it here).  There were about 200 participants last year.  This year, for the 2nd Annual Flats and Handwash Challenge, there are about 500!  So, why am I doing this, especially since I already experienced it last year, I do own a washer and dryer, and I have 5 children to tend to (the younger 4 of which are home full time)?  Why do I want to take the time and energy to switch from my normal diapers (cotton fitteds and wool covers) to flat diapers, and then handwash them???

Well.  First of all, it’s fun.  It changes things up a bit.  It’s a challenge.  When I was a little girl, my favorite books were The Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  I must have read each book 6 times, maybe more.  I have even re-read them as an adult, and we are currently reading them to our children at bedtime (something that will keep us busy for months to come!).  So, as you might imagine, I was(/am?) a little obsessed with the pioneer period.  And how did the pioneers do their laundry?  Why, by handwashing, of course!  So, you see, by participating in this challenge, I get an excuse to play pretend as an adult.  😀  I even use an old-fashioned washboard.  But that’s just the fun part.

On to the business part.  The real point of this challenge is to prove that cloth diapers can be used by those who do not have washing machines at their disposal.  And since flat diapers are the LEAST expensive type (averaging $1 each NEW), it is easy even for those on the smallest of budgets to acquire a decent sized stash for the price of a week or two’s worth of disposable diapers.  Then they don’t have to buy any more – EVER!  (Well, that’s not entirely true — diapers do wear out, but again, flats are super affordable, so even replacing them as they wear out will barely make a dent in the budget!)

I founded and co-lead a local cloth diaper group.  Its purpose is to educate families about cloth diapering; from the different options available to how to use and wash them.  By participating in the FHWC (again), I am able to be a local, in-person witness to the possibility of cloth diapering in the face of two challenges: thinking you can’t afford cloth diapers, and/or thinking you can’t use them because you don’t have a washing machine.  Of course, there are those that simply do not want to handwash, and that is understandable.  You really have to be committed to cloth in order to be willing to do this kind of thing full time.  But when your budget is so low that you have to choose between buying diapers and buying food or paying your utility bill (I’ve been there!), you have a problem.  Some parents have begun to keep their babies in disposable diapers much longer than they should, or even try to wash out and reuse them!  All in the name of saving money.  What is with this madness??  This practice is unhealthy for numerous reasons.  They end up sitting in their own filth, which is just plain unsanitary.  There are also toxic chemicals in disposable diapers.  Why would you want to prolong their exposure to them?

There is a simple solution: cloth.  No money? Flats.  No washer?  Handwash.  I am taking this challenge to help prove that it is doable.

Tomorrow I will tell you what kind of materials I am using this year — I have tweaked things a bit since last year.  Stay tuned!  🙂

~ Michelle

To see why others are taking this challenge, click here (and scroll down to the linkys at the bottom of the post).

Beach Vacation on a Shoestring

It has been somewhat difficult for me to compose this post, because our situation is unique and I can’t tell you to just do what we do.  So this is not a “How-To,” but a “How We Do It” type of thing.  So let me tell you how our large, low-budget family is able to take 4 vacations a year to America’s Oldest City.

I am writing to you from St. Augustine, Florida, where we are currently taking a brief vacation while my husband has a week off between semesters.  I love this place.  There is little housework because we pack very light, and there is always so much to do, even if we don’t have the cash to “play tourist” (I say “play” because my husband and I have both been vacationing here regularly since we were toddlers, so it’s kind of home-away-from-home).

So, first.  We are fortunate enough to have a condo that we are able to stay in for free.  My in-laws own 2 fully-furnished condos that they rent out, so they let us stay in our favorite one (the one we honeymooned in) whenever it is available and our schedules allow.  Generally we go for Spring Break (March), Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day — usually for a 3-day weekend, but sometimes longer if we are able (this March we stayed for a whole week!).  So there go the lodging fees.  We do pay $75 for a cleaning fee when we leave, or if we are seriously broke, we can do all of the cleaning ourselves instead (I have not done that in years, though, since the addition of children #4 and 5 — it’s too much!).

Because of the nature of the condo (being the owners’ family), we are able to keep a stash of personal items in a locked closet.  We have a full set of toiletries, some activities for the children, beach toys, and a supply of non-perishable food.  There is enough food to get us through one dinner and one breakfast, so if we arrive late at night (as we did this time), we don’t have to worry about rushing to the grocery store or finding the nearest drive-thru.  So, we only have to pack clothing and whatever personal items we need (like current library books and knitting ;)).

Next, we don’t eat out (much — sometimes we’ll take a celebratory trip to O’Steen’s, where we eat the best fried shrimp ON EARTH; caught that morning).  We go to the grocery store when we get here, and get enough food for the whole stay.  I actually seem to get more home-cooking done here, because of the lack of distractions (like chores!).  Today for breakfast we had fresh cantaloupe, bacon, and a spinach fritatta (which my youngest son called a “piñata,” and then my husband called a “fruitista” within minutes of each other, hahaha).  Then we had a picnic lunch while we were out being touristy, and had salad, green beans, and grilled steak for dinner.  (Incidentally, we are on a starch fast while we are here, to help detox from sugar.  So none of our meals have had any starches.)

So as for touristy stuff, we have some advantages there, too.  Because of the museum-related consulting work that my mother-in-law does here, we have free access to certain museums, like the Government House Museum (local archeology) and the relatively new Pirate Museum.  We are fortunate that our children love museums, and it’s all part of homeschooling!  🙂

We also have a Florida State Park annual pass, which we used here for the first time this trip.  We visited Fort Mose, which was a refuge for escaped slaves back when Florida still belonged to Spain.  They have a little museum and nature trails.  That’s where we had our picnic today.  Since we have a pass, we got in free.

Another wonderful thing we have at our disposal is a military discount.  My husband served 10 years in the USMC, and is a veteran.  St. Augustine is a very military-friendly town.  They offer deep discounts all over the place.  For example, we are able to tour the St. Augustine Lighthouse for free with our military IDs.  And just today, we did the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not museum (again) for $5/person age 6+, as opposed to $15/person!  I think Potter’s Wax Museum was also free — we did that last year.

So, that’s about all there is to say about it.  I am so thankful that we are able to get away every now and then and just enjoy nature and each other.  So funny, though — when we come to the beach, you’d think we’d be spending a lot of time on the beach, right??  Hmmm, nope.  This is what they always want to do instead:

But I took the baby down to the beach this afternoon so she could do some exploring, since she was not happy at the pool.  I didn’t have a baby carrier on me, so I did a make-shift Kanga carry with a beach towel (not my first time doing this, either!).

So I guess if I were to give advice on how to have a budget vacation, it would be pretty basic stuff.  Go where you can stay for free (with friends/family), avoid eating out and buy groceries and cook instead, and find the cheap and/or free entertainment.  Genius!  😀

~ Michelle

Yummy Monday: Easy Veggie Stew

This is another family favorite.  It makes a BIG batch, so there are usually lots of leftovers.  I love this soup mix.  It’s chock full of good stuff (lentils and barley, anyone?), and the kids think it’s awesome because it has tiny alphabet pasta in it.  It is yet another highly customizable recipe because you can add (or not) whatever meat or veggie you like, or don’t add any meat and it’s vegan!  I just so happened to have recently discovered pre-cooked bacon, and I think I’m in love.  I have even seen it in organic form (VERY pricey!), although what I used is not so healthy.   As a bonus, this stew is SOUPER easy to make, so let’s get on with it! 😀

You will need:

1 package Bob’s Red Mill Vegi Soup Mix

1 meduim onion, diced

1 pack of bacon, cooked and chopped up

4 quarts water

Organic Better Than Bouillon vegetable base

Put the water in a big pot, turn it on to boil.

Add 1/4C + 1TBSP + 1 tsp (yes, really) bouillon base, gently whisk in.

Add soup mix, stir.

Add diced onions and the chopped-up, cooked bacon.

Simmer for 30-45 minutes; careful not to overcook or the pasta will be mush.

Serve with cornbread or biscuits.  🙂


~ Michelle 🙂

Into Mama’s Hands: An Unassisted Birth

If you missed yesterday’s post where I explained how I came to UC, look here.

On Tuesday, November 9th, 2010, I had my 39 week prenatal appointment.  I had reluctantly agreed to have my prenatal care transferred to the hospital midwife who worked under the back-up OB.  She checked my cervix and found me to be 3-4cm dilated and 50% effaced, but baby was still high.  I went home and continued my day as usual.  Around 4pm, as I sat on the porch talking to my husband, I coughed (I was getting over a long episode of asthmatic bronchitis triggered by a very dusty, pollen-y cleaning marathon several weeks prior), and felt a trickle.  I looked at him with a sheepish smile and said “I think my water just broke.”  I stuck my hand down my pants and felt the distinct wetness, and said, “Yup.”  Hooray!  Birthing day had finally arrived!  Contractions had not begun yet, however.  I figured they would soon, though, like they did with my last labor.

After the initial excitement, I started to get nervous.  Was I really going to do this?  Did I really have the mental capacity to have a UC?  Was I endangering myself and my baby?  I found a bottle of Riesling in the fridge that had been there for 9 months (haha), opened it, and poured myself a small glass.  It was delicious, surprisingly enough considering how old it was!  It was about all I could do for the anxiety, and it did help.

We called a few friends over, those who knew our plans (and there were VERY few of those), to help with the last minute preparations.  One friend came and cleaned the kitchen and tidied the rec-room (for my TV-viewing pleasure, haha).  Another friend got our children ready for bed.  During this, my husband moved all the laundry baskets and boxes out of our bedroom so there would be room for the birth pool.  It was set up, and starting to fill.  We turned the water off when it was half full so that it could be filled the rest of the way with fresh hot water when it became needed.

setting up the pool

my birthing cocoon, tucked into a corner of the bedroom

Then the three of us ladies went on several walks to try and stimulate labor, which was still nowhere in sight.  After several hours of waiting (my bedtime having passed), I became increasingly tired and discouraged.  I decided to go to bed, hoping to be woken up by labor.  No such luck.  I slept horribly and morning came with still no labor.  I had been having periodic gushes ever since my water broke, and every time, I would wait for a hard contraction to begin afterward.  Never happened.

It was then Wednesday, November 10th, the United States Marine Corps’ 235th birthday.  All through the pregnancy I had jokingly said I was aiming for 11/10 to give birth in honor of my husband’s 10 years in the Marine Corps. It was so awesome that it looked like that was going to actually be true!

I was starting to get a little nervous, because of the 24 hour “time limit” OBs tend to stick you with when the membranes rupture before labor has begun.  The risk is of infection.  I, however, was not being exposed to the main risk factors, which are being in a hospital full of foreign germs, and having multiple cervical exams to check progress (I had not done any on myself since my water broke).  The fluid was gushing regularly so the area was constantly being flushed out.  I was monitoring my temperature and the baby’s heart rate regularly, and both continued to be fine.

Around 8am I sent my husband to Mother Earth Market to buy a new bottle of blue cohosh tincture (an herb that is used to induce/augment labor contractions).  He got there only to find that they didn’t open until 9am.  I was frustrated, but knew I could do nothing else but wait.  At 9am, he called to say that the store was sold out of both brands of blue cohosh tincture.  Ack!  He then had to drive across town to the other Mother Earth store, where they did have some.

When he finally got home around 10am, McDonald’s breakfast in hand, I reached out and said “Gimme, gimme!”  He started to hand me a mocha frappe, and I said “No!  Give me the tincture!”  I went straight to the kitchen and took a dose.   I had decided to take the doses more frequently than usual, because I knew from past experiences that it took over an hour for any contractions to start (after 2 doses).  I was going to take it every half hour until contractions began, then decrease to every hour until they were strong and regular.

I had loaned my double electric breast pump to a friend, so I called her to see if she could bring it back that morning so I could use it to try and induce labor with some pumping sessions (which release oxitocin, the hormone that causes contractions).

I finally decided to call my homebirth midwife to consult with her.  I had been trying to avoid involving her, because I had no intentions of going to the hospital as long as things seemed to be going okay.  I’m pretty sure she knew that, but I didn’t want to put her in any kind of awkward situation (ethically).  But, the clock was ticking and I had been ruptured for over 18 hours by then.  I needed to make sure I wasn’t making a dangerous mistake by continuing to stay home, and to hash out what to do if/when it became truly necessary to go to the hospital.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that my midwife was calmer about the situation than I was.  She assured me that labor would start, and that things would probably go quickly when it did.  She had to consult the hospital midwife and inform her of what was going on, and I reluctantly agreed.  I was told that, because of the hospital-based nature of the practice, it was recommended that I come into the hospital to be evaluated.  I declined, and my choice was documented.  I knew if I went in they would pressure me to start pitocin, and that would completely kill the experience I was aiming for.  Not to mention that there was no medical indication that I needed it at that point.  So my midwife instructed me to monitor myself for fever, keep checking the baby’s heart rate to make sure it remained strong and steady, and adhere to the “nothing in the vagina” rule.  No problem!  I told her I had just started taking blue cohosh and was going to be using the pump as well.  Big thumbs up.  I felt much better then!

So, around noon, after 5 doses of cohosh, 3 pumping sessions, and still no labor, I decided that I wanted the kids to leave the house.  I couldn’t concentrate or relax; their presence was keeping me tense and nervous as they went about their day as usual (which consists of running around, making lots of noise, demanding attention, and occasionally fighting with each other).  So my husband called his mom and she agreed to come pick up the 3 younger children (my oldest was visiting his dad).  She arrived around 12:30pm, and my 2-year-old son started to freak out.  Poor thing knew something was going on, and did not like the idea of being shuttled away – it was a new experience for him.  We finally got him in the car and he was weeping…but apparently the smiles returned a few minutes down the road and my mother-in-law called to tell us that.  Good.  I could finally relax.

Enter mind-body connection.  Within 15 minutes of the children departing, I had a contraction.  A real one!  I was excited and relieved.  My husband had just made me a turkey-provolone sandwich and I was slowly eating it; I was not very hungry, but I knew my body needed more than the Gatorade I’d been drinking.  About a minute or two after that first good contraction ended, another one began.  Wow!  I was sure it was a fluke.  I continued to eat a bite of sandwich, breathe through a contraction, repeat.  After about 5 contractions in a row like this, I finally realized that I was actually in labor!  The contractions were 2-3 minutes apart, which signifies active labor, and the intensity of the contractions were consistent with that stage of labor as well; strong, but doable.  I posted on MDC (MotheringDotCommunity, an online mamas’ forum) that I was finally in labor shortly before 1pm.  My sandwich sat, half-eaten, on the porch table.

After about 45 minutes of these contractions, still coming quickly and strongly, the intensity suddenly increased dramatically.  I knew my husband needed to get the birth pool filled and warm, because it was time for that “aquadural” relief.  I had been holding out as long as possible so as not to waste the warm water or cause labor to stall.  So, between contractions, I breathlessly instructed him to get the pool ready.  There were 4 big pots of water being heated on the stove, and he emptied our hot water tank into the already half-full (but room temperature, by then) pool.

“Go boil some water!” (this was taken 39 minutes before she was born!)

At this point I got down on my knees and leaned over the birth ball during contractions.  I had to focus on relaxing my abdominal muscles, because I had been inadvertently tensing them.  The contractions were slightly less uncomfortable this way.  I breathed slowly and deeply, and rode each wave as it came.  After several contractions like this, I seized the opportunity during the (short!) break between them to pick up the ball and go to the bedroom (I’d been on the back porch this whole time).  I made it back there just in time for another contraction to start, so I threw the ball down on the floor and got on my knees, leaning over it again.  I was waiting for my husband to finish warming the pool water.

Shortly before 2pm, the phone rang.  It was my midwife calling to check on me (we hadn’t spoken in a few hours), and to tell me that she had a class from 2-3:15pm, so to text her instead of calling if I needed her during that time frame.  She asked if things were picking up and I replied “Oh yeah…”, still breathing heavily, as I had just finished a contraction.

A few minutes later, the contractions increased in intensity again.  I had to muster more courage to remain calm through each one.  I got up and stuck my hand in the pool.  It seemed only lukewarm, but I figured the buoyancy might at least help things even if the warmth factor wasn’t quite where I needed it.  I changed into a gray sports bra and fresh undies (‘cause I’m so modest, haha) between a few contractions, and stepped into the pool.  My husband came in and I asked him to turn on the CD player, which had a Polynesian women’s choir CD in it, which I had listened to while in labor with the twins 6 years back.  Then I said “More hot water.”  He was off again.  I was leaning over the side of the pool on the end that has a seat.  He arrived back with a pot of hot water and I moved to the other end of the pool and stirred with the “debris net” as he slowly poured it in.  It felt good, but still not warm enough.  “More,” I said.  Off he went.  This repeated until all 4 pots of water had been poured, and he was refilling them all to put them back on the stove.

riding the waves, deep in a trance

During all of his bustling around, I had turned over and was laying face-up with my arms supported over the sides of the pool, stretched out and suspended in the water.  The contractions were incredibly intense by then, and I was deep in a trance.  My legs were trembling and I knew that I was approaching transition.  I stayed unspeakably calm, focusing on making it through one contraction at time.  After a while, and I have no idea how long (I’m guessing about 10 minutes), I felt a very strange sensation after a contraction finished.  It was a distinct shift in the pressure down there.  My eyes flew open wide as I realized what had just happened.  My cervix had finished dilating, and her head had just slid down into the birth canal.  Holy crap.  I wasn’t about to enter transition.  I had just finished it!  Without even noticing!

This is me going through transition! Just as still and quiet as I look in this photograph.

At this point, I was in a state of disbelief that the birth was so imminent.  The last thing on my mind was calling anyone, or even telling my husband what was going on.  I didn’t quite believe it myself, and thought if I came out of my deep meditative trance and tried to talk to anyone, I might not be so calm.  So I just sat there, in my own little world.  The contractions had stalled, which is normal between the first (labor) and second (delivery) stages of birth.  It isn’t called “The Rest and Be Thankful Phase” for nothing!

As soon as the contractions started up again, they were very hard and sharp.  After a few like that, I took off my undies, squeezed the water out, and chucked them toward the bathroom (I missed and hit the dresser).  I moved to the other end of the pool, the end without the seat, and leaned over the side, resting my head on the edge.  I was on my knees, which were far back behind me, with my belly hanging down in the water.  During the next contraction, I figured I’d try pushing a little to see if that helped relieve some of the sharpness.  It did, so I continued to push, breathe, push, breathe…really focusing on catching my breath between pushes.  I may have been in la-la land, but I realized that I hadn’t checked her heart rate since I’d gotten into the pool, and there was not any possibility of doing it at this point (my primal birthing instincts had kicked in and I wasn’t going anywhere!), so I wanted to make sure I was breathing well enough to keep everything as oxygenated as possible.

My husband came back into the room, and as soon as a contraction subsided, I said to him, breathlessly, “Go turn the hose on, hot.”  He complied (there was a garden hose hooked up to our shower head).  By that point, the water heater had rebooted enough to give at least some hot water.  After less than a minute of the hose being in the tub, and feeling the hot water swirl around me, I started to have a hot flash.  “Okay, that’s good, that’s good!”  He ran and turned it off, then finally climbed onto the bed and settled in by my side.

At this point, I was pushing with each contraction.  I would ease into a push, and then my body would take over and hold the push, and I would grunt like I was taking a huge dump.  I was panting between pushes, and would then push again, because it made the sharp pains dull out a bit.  My husband was there, stroking my hair and telling me what a good job I was doing.  At first, I almost told him to stop touching my hair, but then I realized it was giving me something to focus on other than the pain, and I appreciated it, so I kept my mouth shut.  I hadn’t told him that transition was over and that this was real, intentional pushing.  In fact, I hadn’t said a word to him at all since telling him to turn off the hose.  Apparently, he thought transition was just beginning, because with my last birth, I was pushing/grunting involuntarily during that stage.

Gently, instinctively pushing my baby down.

Within a few minutes, I started to feel the burn.  I knew that I needed to stop pushing and let the tissue stretch, but it hurt so much that I chose to continue pushing as gently as possible anyway.  I knew it was almost over.  I reached down to feel for her head, but felt nothing except a slightly opened hole.  I was grunting and sobbing as I pushed.  I reached down again and felt that telltale “fuzzy walnut” that was her scalp, compressed in the birth canal and just starting to crown.  The burning was intense and I was panting quickly between pushes, still groaning and crying.  But strangely, I was not panicking.  I was so focused on what my body was doing, knowing that this was the moment of truth and that it would soon be over; there was no room for panic.  Another few gentle pushes and I reached down again.  This time, her head was completely crowned, and so I reached my other hand down and pressed down on either side to provide counter pressure.

I knew that this was the most important time to not push.  But I also knew that one more push would bring her head over that hump and the worst part would be over.  Decisions, decisions.  I chose to push (I should have waited).  I don’t even know if I was having a contraction or not at that point; all I could feel was that blasted “ring of fire”.  So I braced my hands on either side of her head, and pushed hard.  Suddenly, there was an entire head in my hands.  I let out a big sigh of relief and stroked her soft head.  I moved my fingers around to her face, brushing over her tiny ears, felt her nose and mouth, and rubbed her squishy, fat cheeks, all while catching my breath.  It was a peaceful, surreal, and completely magical moment; the world had stopped turning, and it was just me and my baby girl.

Then I was eager for the rest of her to come out.  I knew I had to wait for her to rotate her body so her shoulders could be born.  I waited to feel that happening, as I’d heard others do, but I didn’t.  I became impatient and figured I’d try to push again and see what happened.  I figured I’d stick my finger down there and try and hook her armpit to aid the top shoulder’s delivery.  As I was doing that, she started to slide out a little, and I realized I’d forgotten to check to see if the cord was around her neck!  OOPS!  I unhooked my finger from her armpit and there was the cord!!  She was already sliding out, so I quickly tried to loop it over her head.  I couldn’t, and she was coming out anyway.  She sort of somersaulted out into the water, and I tried to maneuver her out of the cord tangle.  The lighting was dim and I couldn’t really see exactly how the cord was wrapped over her (I believe is wasn’t actually around her neck, but over her shoulder and across her chest).  I couldn’t pull her up out of the water because of it, so I slowly spun her around until she was untangled and I could pull her up.  It was 2:58pm.

[This was the moment when my husband finally realized how far things had gone, poor guy!  He had no idea what was happening until he saw her hand in the water as she was born.  Talk about poor communication on my part!  Time to grab the camera!]

Some of these are really grainy because the flash didn’t go off, sorry!

I lifted her up to my chest.  She was purple and not breathing, but her arms and legs were flexed, her face grimacing, and the cord still attached and pulsating, so I knew she would be okay.  But, I wanted her to wake up.  My husband handed me a warm receiving blanket and I rubbed her vernix-covered back and head, and said, “Hi, sweet girl!  Open your eyes, baby!”  I turned her onto her tummy so she could cough up any mucous or water, but there wasn’t any.  She did give a dry cough, though.  I turned her back over and she was opening and closing her eyes, slowly and sporadically.  I kept rubbing her with the blanket and talking to her.  I stuck my finger in her mouth to check for mucous, but it was clear.  My husband handed me the suction bulb and I stuck it in her mouth and nose, if for no other reason than to made her mad so she’d cry (I wish I hadn’t done that, but I had the slightest bit of panic brewing).  She was making angry faces, but still didn’t really cry more than a little mew every now and then.  I tried blowing into her mouth gently, and that made her mad, too.  After a few minutes of stimulation, she was noticeably pinker and more active, but still very mellow.

I felt another contraction, and remembered the placenta.  I gave a little push, and out it slid into the water.  It was still attached inside by the membranes, so I waited a little longer to see if it would eject itself (it didn’t, so I pulled gently and it came out, tearing off a small piece that ended up passing in a clot a few days later with no complications — I should have twisted the placenta to create a “rope” from the membranes that might have detached more easily).

At 3:11pm, I called my midwife, hoping that maybe her class had let out a few minutes early.  She didn’t answer, but called me back within a few minutes.  I told her “Well, that was a fast labor!”  She was surprised, just as everyone else was who heard the news.  I assessed Brigit to make sure she was okay to wait until the next morning to see the pediatrician.  She was.  My, errr…baby exit door, however, was not okay.  I ended up with a second-degree tear (see: “Suddenly, there was an entire head in my hands” above) that required about 12 stitches, and a very long wait at the doctor’s office.

30 minutes old

“I did it!”

The next day, I took the baby to the pediatrician to be checked out (and weighed and measured!).  Our guess for her birth weight was 7lbs 8oz (and that’s what we put on the birth certificate), since she had already passed meconium 4 times before she was weighed.  She was 20” long with a 35cm head circumference.  Perfectly average in size!

This experience was incredible.  Despite the tear and some difficulties I had with recovery, I could not have asked for a more perfect birth.  It was 23 hours from my water breaking to her birth, with a mere 2 hours of labor in the end.  I was calm, followed my instincts, and have been healed from all the past birth traumas.  I have never felt more empowered; I am forever changed.

baby bliss, 5 hours old

welcome to the world, baby sister!

Into Mama’s Hands: An Unassisted Birth © 2010

Brigit at 15 months (Feb. 2012)

How Did I Get HERE? My Journey to Unassisted Birth

I had my heart set on a homebirth for so many reasons, including previous birth traumas, disdain for intrusive medical interventions, privacy/modesty concerns, and outright spiritual need.  I hired the midwives and began my preparations (mostly mental at that point).  Around 20 weeks I had an ultrasound and a consult scheduled with the back-up OB because I had risk factors (fairly ridiculous ones) that he needed to sign off on so that the midwives could legally attend my homebirth.  He strung me along for over 3 months before deciding that he would not, in fact, be granting me permission to have the midwives attend my birth at home.  His main concern was for my history of birth and neonatal “complications” (every single one of which was relatively common, unpredictable and thus unpreventable, and did not necessitate a hospital to deal with – at least not for the birthing part).

20 weeks

After the initial possibility of this happening was brought to my attention at that 20 week consult, I began researching Unassisted Childbirth (UC).  I remembered seeing the documentary, “Freebirthing”, about this fringe movement.  At the time I thought “these people are nuts!”, like I’m sure many people did, but when I actually started digging into the research, I was awed to discover that people choose UC for the exact reasons I wanted a homebirth in the first place.  The thought of such an empowering, magical experience as UC made complete sense to me, and I needed to do it.  I decided that I didn’t want anyone but my husband and children there; not even friends or other family.  It was to be a private, deeply sacred event.

28 weeks

I did more research about birth than ever before.  I read about 5 books about natural childbirth, some of them midwifery textbooks.  I read them over and over.  I had to focus not only on the emotional aspect of birthing without any professional attendants around for support, but also the functional aspects of safe, responsible birthing.  I read birth stories and watched birth videos on the internet of other successful UCs.  I read stories of unsuccessful UCs that resulted in hospital transfers.  These women were smart; they were prepared enough to recognize when something wasn’t right, and when the point came that they could not handle it alone.  That is what hospitals and OBs are for.  The “real” emergencies.  It blew my mind to learn how very unnecessary so many routine medical interventions are, and how often hospital staff overreact to things that occur during birth that are simply a variation of normal.   It was amazing how much I learned about natural birth, including every single “complication” I had ever had, and how most of it was really no big deal as far as “normal” birthing goes.  It was fascinating and empowering.  I knew I could do it.  It was a long journey that required a lot of deep consideration and bravery, but when the time came that I made up my mind, I knew I could do it.  I trusted my body and my mind to get us through this safely, regardless of whether I actually got to UC or not.  I was certainly not willing to sacrifice health and safety for the UC experience, which is why I had to be so prepared; so I would know how to deal with anything that arose and recognize when to throw in the towel and call in the professionals if things went bad.

30 weeks

I gathered the appropriate supplies.  I purchased a birth pool, a Doppler, a stethoscope, a blood pressure monitor, a pulse-oximeter, chux pads, gauze, gloves, alcohol, umbilical scissors and clamps, hemostats, various herbal tinctures for augmenting contractions and helping stop hemorrhage and shock.  I learned all about how to deal with a surprise breech, shoulder dystocia, hemorrhage, and shock.  I learned neonatal resuscitation and instructed my husband on it.  We talked and talked about things, over and over for a total of 4 months.  I made sure he knew how to support me during transition, when I typically lost emotional control and had panicked in previous births.  I mentally prepared myself for the pain of crowning, because I’d felt it 3 times before, so I knew exactly how much it would hurt.  I was determined to swallow my fear of the pain and be the primitive birthing goddess that Mother Nature intended.

36 weeks

***Tomorrow I will tell you how things turned out, so stay tuned!***

~ Michelle

Are Big Families Really the “New Green”?

Welcome to April edition of the Authentic Parenting Blog Carnival, hosted by Authentic Parenting and Mudpiemama. This month’s topic is “Celebrating Our Earth – Green Living”. Please scroll down to the end of this post to find a list of links to the entries of the other participants. Enjoy!

So…ARE big families the “New Green”???  I like to think so!  So many people scoff at large families and try to argue that they are hard on the earth when actually, large families often tread even more lightly on the earth than many average-sized families — by necessity!

Below are my thoughts in response to this article.


“Cars Count”

I have often thought about how “efficient” it is that we cram 7 people into one vehicle on a regular basis. Sure, our 10-year-old minivan gets a measly 15mpg on average (city), but that’s actually better per capita than a family of four driving a 45mpg hybrid (if my mental pseudo-math is correct). We do go places often, unlike the author of the article suggests. I try to get out of the house every day, even if only to the grocery store (and that, preferably with just one or two children in tow). We go to parks, homeschool events, the library, and playdates at friends’ houses. And these things are located all over the metropolis, which isn’t very green, perhaps, but at least our metropolis is relatively small compared to most — the furthest we ever go is 25 minutes or less away from home, most being 5-15 minutes.

“Economy Size”

Yes, it takes the same amount of electricity to light and cool (or heat, for a very brief part of the year) our home, no matter how many people inhabit it. We definitely use more water than most families, at least for laundry. I estimate that we have 10-15 loads of laundry to wash per week. We do, however, have a “super capacity” washing machine, and I am a stickler to “run only full loads” rule.

When the children were younger, we would combine their baths, to the point that the water consumption probably equaled an average-sized family’s bathing habits. Nowadays, we still combine baths, but are now transitioning to showers often, which, with our low-flow shower heads, I’m hoping use even less water than their “up to your belly-button” baths.

“Cozy Quarters”

There are 7 of us living in a 3 bedroom house (well, 4 bedrooms of you count that tiny room in the addition that I use as a studio…but I don’t).  Yup, that’s the same size as an average  house for a family of four.  But our children don’t each have their own rooms, obviously.  Right now there is a kids’ bedroom, and a playroom, and it works great for our current needs.  When they are older (like, when the older ones hit puberty), there will be a boys’ room and a girls’ room.  I like to think that having one’s own room is overrated.  😉  I have heard many people who grew up in large families talk about how much they loved it, and how close they are to their siblings.  I imagine being crammed together like sardines contributed to that!

“Reduce & Reuse”

We definitely have a tight budget, especially since my husband got out of the Marine Corps and went back to college.  We are currently subsisting on a military housing allowance, grant money, and student loans, so our money must be stretched.  I am a big fan of thrift store shopping.  One of my favorite thrift stores runs daily specials, the best one (in my opinion) being the “Fill a bag for $5” days.  I am able to cram 10-15 pieces of clothing, often brand name, into one of those bags, and then pay less than the price of one new baby outfit from Walmart.  Now that’s thrifty!  I have gone out thrifting and spent $50 total for 2 garbage bags full of stuff.  So much cheaper than buying new!

As for reusing, we definitely do a lot of that around here!  We are almost entirely paperless; the only paper product we buy is toilet paper (well, and printer paper, but that is recycled!), and even that may be on the menu for (at least partial) extinction down the road, although we do use disposable storage bags as well (something that is on my list of things to remedy; I plan to make some reusable food storage bags eventually).  We use real dishes (our original supply is supplemented by thrift store replacements to compensate for children breaking them), and drink out of repurposed pickle jars.  Our babies’ bums don real (cloth) diapers, and cloth baby wipes are used for diaper changes as well as “field showers” for dirty/sticky little hands and faces.  I use cloth menstrual pads that are washed with the diapers.  Instead of paper towels, we use cheap washcloths, bought in bulk.  I think we must have 50 of them, and I go through at least 5 a day, or many more depending on the level of mess!  We use sturdy cotton napkins as napkins, and thin, soft, thrift store ($4/dozen!)  cotton napkins as handkerchiefs!   So that just leaves us with toilet paper, and I have been known to use a dry flannel baby wipe in an emergency, or a wet one from the warmer in place of those flushable wipes.  I love cloth!

Other ways we “reduce” is by me breastfeeding the babies (I finally made it without using a drop of formula with baby #5!), and eating leftovers.  I don’t understand why some people won’t eat leftovers; so many things taste better the next day!  I am a big fan of one-dish meals, so that is especially true for us!  And food that doesn’t get eaten in a timely manner often gets either composted or fed to the chickens; either way making its way back to our table, whether through eggs or garden harvest!

“Make Do”

Our house is almost entirely furnished with hand-me-down furniture.  Seriously.  It boggles my mind when I think about it.  The only things we have bought new (over the course of several years) are our king sized mattress, one twin mattress, one crib mattress, our entryway table, 3 cheap book cases, 6 folding chairs for our dining table, the folding tables in my craft room, and some patio/camping chairs.  EVERYTHING else is donations from family and friends.  Everything.  And I would venture a guess that at least half of our other possessions are either hand-me-downs, gifts, or bought second-hand.  Yes, we are terrible consumers, but it is mighty friendly to both the earth and our pocketbook!

“Pass it on”

We are happily involved in the hand-me-down loop.  We don’t have as many sources for receiving hand-me-downs as we really need, because most of my children are older than most of my friends’ children.  But, when they outgrow things, I enjoy giving things away to friends who can use them.  As I have said, though, most of my childrens’ clothing is secondhand or gifts.  Within our family, however, it’s pass-down central!  I have 3 boys and 2 girls, so technically (though not completely in practice), I should be able to get away with only buying/acquiring clothing for the oldest boy and the oldest girl.  Things are then passed down from sibling to sibling.

I love it when I put something on one of my younger children and mentally count how many children have worn that particular piece of clothing.  There is, for example, a pair of size 2T Old Navy denim overalls that I purchased used when my oldest was a baby, and every single one of my children has worn them since (it helps having twins who are different sizes because then some clothes can be handed down between them!) — so those overalls have been worn by at least 6 children!  To keep the system organized, I use dots, marked on clothing tags with a black Sharpie.  The oldest boy gets one dot, the middle boy gets 2 dots, the youngest boy gets 3 dots.  (I don’t do that for the girls [yet] because they are 6 years apart, so it is pretty easy to tell which clothes belong to whom at this point.)  This dot system helps avoid confusion come laundry time.

All of that said, clothes do wear out, so we do need to acquire “new” clothing (and shoes) for the younger children as well.  That is where thrift store shopping comes in handy.  For example, I have found high quality shoes in excellent condition for $1-3 many times!

“What the Future Holds”

I like to think that the lifestyle we live will make an impression on my children that they will carry into adulthood.  Urban homesteading, something that we aspire to but I haven’t mentioned yet here, is another “green” practice we have.  We are not there yet, but we have chickens and a decent-sized vegetable garden, and there are many many things planned for the future as far as our urban homestead goes.  That, combined with all of our other earth-friendly (and frugal) practices, are a way of life for us.  When my children are grown and gone, they will have these practices ingrained in their minds and hearts, and will carry on the legacy of protecting our earth and saving money at the same time, no matter how many children they end up having.  I, for example, learned a lot from my grandmothers, who were teenagers during The Great Depression and carried many of the penny- and resource-pinching ways of their childhoods into the next few generations.  The things I learned from them made an impression, and I hope to do the same for my own children.

~ Michelle


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