Posts tagged beauty
How I Almost Had Our Baby in the Car and Why That Matters For You

A few weeks ago, we joyfully welcomed our little boy into the world. The entire car ride to the hospital though, my body was pushing even though I didn't want to (not yet!) - anyone who's had a baby knows the feeling of your body just taking over! It was all I could do to just breathe and beg my little one to slow down, praying he could sense it wasn't time yet. I actually almost could have had the baby at home before getting into the car so we didn't really know what would happen as we tried to make it safely to the hospital!

So why the hell did I wait so long to go to the hospital, right? Lots of reasons, but mainly, I hadn't felt the need to go. The hypnobirthing class my husband and I took as part of our birth preparations gave me such amazing tools, knowledge and confidence in my body, that I was in an unshakeable birthing zone. I had no concept, or fear, of how far or fast I was progressing. It was beautiful and amazing and I wish I'd had these tools for every other time I went through an intense hospital experience - even the ones unrelated to birth - it was that powerful.

Hypnobirthing might sound a little wacky, or "woo" but I found it to be grounded in evidence with some meditation (also grounded in science now) mixed in. The course I took was taught by the amazing doulas at Cap Wellness Center but was created by the Hypnobirthing Institute and according to their website, "The HypnoBirthing program is built around an educational process that includes special breathing, relaxation, visualization, meditative practice, attention to nutrition and positive body toning. Most importantly it fosters an air of mutual respect for the birthing family, as well as the health-care provider in a traditional health-care system or an alternative setting."

I learned so much through hypnobirthing to ease pain, relax, eliminate ALL my fears about birth, build confidence in my body's capabilities and build an amazing team to help me have the exact experience I wanted, that I want everyone to experience it, whether or not you're having a baby! If I had known the hypnobirthing tools before many of my medical experiences and surgeries, I know my stress and pain would have been greatly reduced and I would have felt so much better before, during and after my time in the hospital. So let me tell you about my birth because it can help you.

Labor started for me just after I woke up on a Friday morning. My husband woke up for work and decided to stay home with me because we had a feeling about this particular day being "The Day" and after he crawled back into bed and told me he was staying home, I started feeling some deep, fairly intense low back aches. 

I told my husband, "something's different" and we started trying to time my surges but they seemed to be about 10 minutes apart and of varying intensity and so I thought, "there's no way this is real labor. I should have contractions like an hour apart, and then every 20 minutes, or something. This must be more Braxton Hicks practice labor. It feels different but I'll just wait and see."  I did text my doula, Britney Murillo, though, and let her know what was up. Her response text was,  "Oooohhhh interesting!" Haha. Clearly neither of us were concerned.

So my husband made me breakfast and we decided to swing by the plant nursery to get a new plant for our front step. Our ficus tree had died and I did not want to have a dead plant on the front step when we brought a new baby home. It felt like very bad Feng Shui to me and not how I wanted to welcome our new baby. So off we went and I realized these surges I was feeling had to be the real thing. They made me have to stop and and breathe, and my Braxton Hicks contractions never really had that effect on me. We got home and continued trying to time my surges but they seemed to stay at that 10-minutes-apart frequency for a long time and I was managing fine, just breathing through each one. I knew I was in labor now but I just wasn't worried. I was confident in my body's ability to birth a baby, despite my plethora of previous injuries (including a broken hip and pelvis). My Hypnobirthing course and all the classes I took at Cap Wellness Center had instilled in me the knowledge that I could do this. 

Hypnobirthing had allowed me to release all of my fears (I had a few 'sticky' ones that I couldn't shake on my own) and had instilled in me the knowledge that as women, we are designed to do this and I could have this baby with ease. It would be perfect and beautiful and I could handle whatever turn my and my baby's birth might take. It also educated me better than I could have hoped for about what to expect, what all the different birth scenarios might entail, which drugs were used for different purposes, what my rights were once I was in the hospital, what to expect in different situations, which interventions and exams I could safely refuse , etc. And no matter how the birth unfolded, even if there were special circumstances (complications), we could still have a beautiful birth with our Hypnobirthing tools in hand.

Part of what we learned was that laboring at home for as long as possible was usually the best option because it was the place most of us feel the most relaxed. It would allow things to progress more easily because reduced tension meant less pain and an easier trip for the baby. So that's what we did.

I had lunch, chatted with my husband, put on some music and sang to the baby and danced through a few surges. Then went to my knees with my arms and chest up on the couch as the surges intensified. But still, I wasn't scared and I couldn't think beyond each moment. My husband did think about it but couldn't really tell where I was in my laboring process or what to tell my doula even though she texted and asked him how things were going. It being our first baby, we were kind of flying blind and perhaps a little over confident because I was handling the process so well.

It was late in the afternoon when I decided to have a bath to relax and help ease my labor discomfort, but when I got out, I was suddenly drenched in sweat and complaining of feeling a bit nauseated. Those symptoms rang a bell to my husband and I that things were progressing but we were still thinking, "I dunno..." I was still handling every surge and while I was a lot more vocal at this point, groaning and using my voice in loud, low tones to help me through each surge, things definitely felt a lot more intense and I remember wishing I could get a break because the surges just seemed to keep coming and the intensity was tiring.

Luckily my doula texted me to ask how things were going and that triggered me to ask her to finally come be with me. I knew having her with me would help at this point, and I told my birth photographer, Daniella DeVarney,  to come over too. I still wasn't thinking it was time to go to the hospital though, and I figured we'd hang out at home for a while longer. We hadn't even informed my obstetrician that I was in labor! (Sorry Dr. Cap)

I guess now I can look back and see that I had reached the desired state of self-hypnosis that hypnobirthing teaches. This isn't like the stage version of hypnosis that we typically think of (there was no clucking like a chicken) but rather a state of deep relaxation and calm, where nothing can rattle you. All hypnosis, even the stage kind, is actually self-hypnosis and we cannot get to that state of mind without being willing participants.  So my training had taught me how to relax quickly and stay there, release all my fears, and become more and more connected to my body and my baby.

Through my labor that day, I had spoken some of my positive affirmations aloud , for myself and for baby, and I used my breathing techniques to help ease my discomfort but while my surges were intense and uncomfortable, I was still totally relaxed. This state of mind and being was so beneficial, I know I can use variations of it for every intense, uncomfortable experience I might experience in the future. 

Birth is unique because you know it's temporary and there is the most incredible reward waiting for you when it's over (your baby!!!), but using a lot of the hypnobirthing tools could have made my surgeries, physical therapy and even uncomfortable conversations much easier and less stressful.

Once Britney arrived, she helped me get comfortable by giving me counter-pressure on my low back and helping me breathe "up" through my surges more effectively than I was doing on my own - a way of breathing that helps with pushing because it works with what my uterus was doing. Then, after a short time, she helped me get comfortable in a supported side-lying position on the floor for a few more contractions but I suddenly felt the need to get up and I grabbed my husband and leaned heavily on him, swaying side to side a bit. Then my water broke.

It wasn't the dramatic flood TV and movies like to portray, but it was pretty obvious what I was feeling in my underwear. Still, Britney suggested we go to the bathroom to check and it was confirmed. Then I had a big, very intense surge in the bathroom and she suggested I reach down and see if I could feel anything. 

I felt something round and soft. "I think I feel a head!!!!" I cried. 

We all thought I was going to deliver right then and there and someone fetched a sheet and a towel while my husband jumped on the phone to call for paramedics. Britney said to him, "You realize you are delivering this baby...!" but as I walked out of the bathroom, my water broke fully in a much more TV-worthy gush all over the floor. What I had been touching was actually the amniotic sac getting pushed out by the descending baby and now I couldn't feel anything in my birth canal. No head. A few more surges gripped me and I realized I was now feeling my body PUSH. No more deep, intense aching that I had to just breathe body was  bringing my baby to me!

But he wasn't here yet. We still had some time. 

I walked as quickly as I could to the car, pausing as two big pushing surges gripped me on the way, then climbed into the backseat on my hands and knees. It was about a half hour drive to the hospital from our house, and of course my husband hit every red light on the way, but he never let me know it (my head was down, pressed against a pillow and the car door) and he totally kept his cool (which allowed me to keep mine) while calling Dr. Cap and the hospital to tell them we were on our way. 

The whole car ride, I talked to my baby and told him what was happening but also asked him (begged him?) to slow down and repeated, "not yet not yet not yet. It's not safe yet." Every bump in the road triggered a big push but we made it to the hospital safely and I walked into the labor wing after having a giant surge in the lobby of the hospital! I was offered a wheelchair but there was no way I could sit at this point.

Once in the delivery room, Britney informed the nurse that I had been bearing down for about an hour and she nonchalantly said, "ok, we'll check" but didn't seem to really believe I was about to have my baby. Then I had a big surge standing next to the bed. That got her attention! I was helped onto the bed and another nurse, Sarah, checked my dilation, announcing, "ok, there's a head!!!"

Now the nurses scurried to get a monitor on my belly and told me I could push now because I was fully dilated. They also asked me if I wanted a hep-lock (the start for an IV without being hooked up to anything) despite being so close to giving birth. This had actually been my plan if  I had labored in the hospital for a while, but my wonderful doula now whispered in my ear that I could refuse if I wanted to. This baby was coming, it really didn't matter now. So while I had reflexively said yes, now I turned around and said, "wait, yeah no! I don't need to be poked with needles right now." Thank you for the reminder, Britney! The hospital nurses were fine with my choice (knowing your rights and what is or isn't medically necessary is crucial to having the birth/and or hospital experience you want!) and I got back to focusing on having my baby.

Then Dr. Cap came running in, literally out of breath (according to my husband). But he was all smiles, saying "Hi guys! Ok, let's have a baby!" And he sat down, immediately assessing the situation and giving me the guidance I needed to push effectively and get that baby out. He was with me for about 5 pushes until the head was out, then he helped clear the baby's shoulder and then my husband was able to put his hands out and catch our baby as he entered the world, eyes wide open. Even though he wasn't there long, having Dr. Cap as my OB throughout my pregnancy allowed me to completely trust him so when it came time to give birth, his presence helped me relax rather than tense up. Choosing him as my care provider for my pregnancy was the best decision I made and it's through his wellness center in Encinitas, California that I had access to prenatal yoga, chiropractic, acupuncture, massage and all the AMAZING classes we took to be educated and prepared for our birth. It really shows how important choosing the right care provider (for anything!) is.

From left: Dr. Cap, my husband, me and baby, Britney - my doula.

From left: Dr. Cap, my husband, me and baby, Britney - my doula.

Even though I had not planned on laboring at home for so long and having a tense race to get to the hospital, in the end I had exactly the birth I wanted. One of my fears/stresses had been possible medical interventions (even though I was prepared to make even a C-Section birth, a beautiful birth) and just being back in a hospital with all the memories of my past experience from my accident. But by being happy at home for so long, there wasn't enough time for the hospital staff to realistically think about doing medical stuff to me once we arrived, and I didn't have time or the mental space for my past hospital memories to intrude or stress me out! I just showed up and had my baby, and after he was born, it was all about him so none of my past injury-related stuff could ruin it. It also allowed me to have a new hospital experience that was completely positive and pushes aside all my painful memories of being broken.

The whole birth experience and my classes and education leading up to it showed me the power of an educated, empowered preparation for birth or any other "health" event or procedure. Birth is NOT a medical event (although it gets turned into one all too often), but the stress, tension and often pain can be removed from so many physical experiences by using the tools I learned in Hypnobirthing, and through getting educated about you're going to experience! Knowledge IS power (and freedom, and relaxation, and preparation) so I hope you can see from my experience that taking the time to learn everything you can about what you're going through and what to expect, what your rights are in a medical setting, and by taking the time to assemble a healthcare team that will help you through it the way YOU want it to unfold can work wonders for you and the entire experience you have. There is so much about this I can share about how it applies to helping everyone, so keep your eyes peeled for future posts and maybe videos with the amazing doulas who taught me about this!

What about you? Have you had a scary medical experience that could have been helped by having more education or less stress and the tools to navigate it? Or have you used some of the same tools and had them help you through a tough experience? Let me know in the comments below!

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How I Transformed My Scars
This week's post is a lot more personal than I've been getting. Honestly, it's hard for me to go down this road and share with you like this. It's much easier for me to share information that I've experienced to be vital for wellness and healing, but is still mostly objective. I hide behind my journalism training, I'll admit. I know it can make it harder for you to connect with me in a more personal way. But now I'm ready to share this with you.

My accident left me with 14 broken bones. From my left foot to my cheeks, I was in pieces and my orthopedic surgeon literally put me back together. I am so grateful and because of him, I can walk but the accident and the repair of my body left me with scars. Big ones. Many visible, many unseen, and all difficult to bear.

The images below are different stages of repair in my left femur. Broken, after the rod was placed and a year and a half later. The uneven modeling of the healed bone is still like that - I can feel it -  and the rod will stay in my leg for life.

For years, every time I'd look in the mirror, I'd cringe when I saw the marks on my skin reminding me of the trauma and fear and pain I had experienced. And the emotional scars inside, usually kept safely out of sight, would surface at the most unexpected and inopportune times, making me cry spontaneously in front of complete strangers. It was awful. I hated how my physical scars looked and I was so sick of CRYING so damn much. I have never cried so much in my life as I have over The Accident.

But one day one of my best friends, Mel Says, showed me the Instagram account of a tattoo artist named Dr. Woo who tattoos at the Shamrock Social Club in West Hollywood . I already had a few smallish tattoos on my back but when I saw his work, I was enchanted.

I NEEDED to get a tattoo from this man and although my first ideas where for something small to fit with what I already had, I suddenly had the idea of covering one of the scars on my thigh. And then I realized if I was considering covering one, why not cover all of the scars on my upper leg?! I felt they were my most glaring and ugly scars and I hated them so much. Living in California, we can go to the beach year round and I'd had people ask me, "what happened?!" when they saw them. Those scars forced me to re-live what had happened every time they were exposed and I needed to be free of them in order to continue my healing. I also knew that plastic surgery or cosmetic dermatology meant more medical intervention and likely over $10,000, neither of which appealed to me!

So I got in touch with Dr. Woo and scheduled my first session for around my birthday. When we started, he used a pencil sketch and some photos that I brought him to draw a freehand design directly on my leg with markers.

There were very few changes. His design was perfect. 

As he started to tattoo the outline and I felt the pain of the tattoo needle, I remember being overcome with gratitude. Even though it hurt, I felt so grateful to be alive, to be feeling the discomfort, and to be there in that moment, getting this incredible piece of custom art tattooed on my body. The emotion brought tears to my eyes but I breathed through it, desperately not wanting to cry in front of the "tough" tattoo guys in this iconic shop on Sunset Boulevard! I know now they would have been very sweet if I had cried, but still.

Click to view larger

This tattoo started as a way to cover my scars, to hide the ugly and try to erase this piece of the trauma... but as time went by, I realized this tattoo had allowed me to transform these scars into something beautiful. The scars are still there, I cannot erase them and they are still deep and painful and I feel them every day, but they no longer have power over me. When I look in the mirror and see my tattoo, I don't see my scars anymore and I can smile.

My completed tattoo.

What I see now is this amazing, gorgeous tree. Gnarled and weathered, twisted by growth and wind and life, but standing strong and budding out as if in the spring, full of life. When I see it, I remember the experience of my sessions at Shamrock where I was in amazing company, instead of being reminded of the worst moment of my life. It was truly transformative, physically and emotionally.

Dr. Woo and the other tattooers in the shop laughed and talked with me through hours-long sessions (my longest one was 5 hours!) and made the whole experience more positive than I could have hoped for, and guys, if you read this, I am still so grateful. Thanks.
Dr. Woo was incredibly kind and easy to talk to, and he made the whole experience more than worth the 2+ hour drive to see him. This video about Dr. Woo went up on recently and  you should watch it and read the article. It'll give you a good idea of the man he is.  I feel really blessed to have discovered him and had him be the one to do this tattoo for me.

The script written in the bark of the tree carries a lot of meaning for me, as well. If you follow me on social media, you've probably seen me post some images with quotes about courage. This script is a quote about courage too, from my favorite book,The Deed of Paksenarrion. It reads: "It is courage that splits the acorn and sends the rootlet down into the soil..." and speaks to how courage is inherent in all living things. It is not a thirst for conflict, but just a quiet little piece of ourselves that is incredibly brave and always present. It reminds me that courage is not something I need to get from somewhere else - it is in me already and is always there when I need it. This idea, and that whole book, pulled me through some very dark times. If you enjoy well-written fantasy novels (not cheesy), I highly recommend it.

My tattoo made an appearance while shooting photos for next week's post. If I look closely, I can still see the scars underneath but even I have to look for them now. Click to view larger. Photo by Mel Says

The tattoo also helped me feel like I had control over what happens to my body again. I didn't ask for the injuries, and as grateful as I am to my surgeons, I didn't get to consent to surgery either. I was unconscious (or close to) and all the repair was done out of necessity - not because I asked for it. It all led to me feeling like I had given up control over my body, which is not like me at all under normal circumstances! Getting tattooed was a way for me to take what had happened to me and make it my own again. I was now in control of what my skin looked like, of what people saw, and what it meant.

 My body has many other scars that are not tattooed, but tattooing this part of me helped me to start accepting my other scars as they are. It helps that they are fading with time, for sure, but I still feel them running deep through every layer of skin, fascia and muscle, right to the bone. I feel the adhesions that restrict my movement, I feel the changes in the bones that keep me from using my body in every way I'd like to. I'd be lying if I said I've fully accepted my body the way it is now because I truly believe I can still regain more of what my injuries took from me. But I've come to terms, more or less, with how my scars look and I know that they serve a purpose. My scars are part of me and they help me to practice yoga everywhere in my everyday. They help me with mindfulness. Did you know yoga means union? Yoga stretches far beyond the mat and my scars remind me to be grateful for everything I have and also serve to show others who have been through similar stuff that I know what they suffer. 

That's really the driving force behind my desire to help people; to help you. I've been through some of the worst imaginable stuff, but I got through it. I've been "there" and I know suffering. But I also know it gets better and I want to help people achieve a recovery they feel equals "better".  Because that's all that matters - that you feel "better", not that other people see you that way. No one can know what it is to be "all better" except you, the one who went through it.

Am I the same? No way. But no matter what we go through, life changes us and we are never the same. The trick is knowing how to accept the things we cannot change and integrate them into who we are now, and love those parts of ourselves! It is also having the strength to put in the time and work needed to heal or strengthen what can be changed. And to seek help when it's needed because no one can do it all, alone. It's not easy but there is a way. I want to help you find your way.

The banner image at the top of the page (and cropped below) shows the surgical scar on my left arm. It is where my humerus was repaired with a plate and screws. When I squeeze my arm, I can feel the lumps where the bone healed in a less-than-perfect way but it's part of me now. I still have some pain in my elbow when I lift weight or do certain exercises at the gym, and even in some yoga poses, but it's getting better and I'm learning how best to use my arm so it doesn't hurt. Feeling cute, comfortable, and supported in my YOGiiZA top helps too. Funny how feeling good in other ways, like a wearing a cute outfit, can make the tough stuff a little easier but it totally does!

I am bionic now and this hardware will be in me until the end. I've inquired about having it removed - I had the rod taken out of my left tibia last year! But the rest is too difficult to remove and could do more harm than good. My arm has delicate nerves that could be irreversibly damaged by more surgery, and the rod in my femur is completely inside the bone - removing it would mean essentially breaking my leg again. No thanks. 

I am scarred but now I know that my scars show that I have lived. None of us get through life without them, whether they're physical or emotional. Learning to make my scars my own and accept them has allowed me to reach another level of healing. It's like forgiveness, when we stop being angry. Hating my scars was only hurting me more and preventing me from healing a part of myself. I am still aware of every mark of my body but I am simply mindful of them. Aware, but not grieving their presence. They serve me now, in a way, to bring yoga and mindfulness into my life every day. If you read my interview with Bethany at From the Pasture, I talked about how yoga was one of the most helpful things I did for my healing. It still is.

You will probably see my other scars show up in photos in my blogs or on social media... I hope seeing mine helps you to accept yours in some way. I can talk about them now so if you have questions or need to share something, please feel free. Comments, email, I'm always listening.

xoxo Maggie

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