Friday, February 28, 2014

Bellies and babies...

I guess this is as good a time as any to say that I'm kind of a birth and baby junkie. I've written a lot about pregnancy, birth, and babies in the past and I'm sure I'll write lots more. Fair warning, I hope. ;-)

Five incredible functions of the placenta

Warning, placenta pictures ahead!

Placenta is a word that evokes a variety of different responses from people. Some are fascinated, some are disgusted, many are indifferent. This organ is often called “the afterbirth” and thought of as something that is to be whisked away and discarded as soon as it’s passed. Many women never get a chance to see their own, but in the growing movement to reclaim natural birth in our culture, more and more women insist on viewing, touching, or even eating their placentas. The day after our second son was born, at home, my husband posted “I almost forgot that there is a placenta in our fridge” on his Facebook status, and the variety of responses was absolutely hilarious. Beyond being something to take care of after the excitement of baby’s birth, though, the placenta has many incredibly important (and incredibly fascinating!) functions, both during pregnancy and during birth.

1) The placenta is the go-between, the gateway between the growing baby and the mother’s bloodstream. Growing alongside the baby in the mother’s womb, it is linked with the mother’s blood and then connects to the baby via the umbilical cord, which enters the baby’s body through the abdomen. This organ is like the filter through which the mother’s blood flows, sending vital nutrients, antibodies, and oxygen through the umbilical vein to the baby, and then receiving de-oxygenated blood and fetal waste through the umbilical arteries.

Perhaps one of the most fascinating things about the placental system is that while the blood flows constantly between mother and baby by way of the umbilical cord, being processed through the placenta, the two bloodstreams don’t actually come into direct contact with one another. There are specific blood vessels that handle maternal blood, and specific blood vessels that handle fetal blood - there is no point when the two blood supplies simply flow into one another.

(the fetal side of a placenta)

2) The placenta releases a specific balance of hormones that prevent the mother’s body from terminating the pregnancy and rejecting the fetus. In a very simplified explanation, in the very beginning of pregnancy there are two major hormones at play - human chorionic gonadotropin, or HCG, and progesterone. (Of course there are a variety of other hormones involved in creating and maintaining a pregnancy, but these ones are the really crucial ones in the beginning.)

Since the placenta itself needs several weeks to form, these hormones originally come from other sources. HCG is first produced from the embryo itself, signaling to the mother’s body that the egg has been fertilized and pregnancy is ready to begin. Receptors in the corpus luteum (the remaining follicle after the egg has been released) then receive this signal from the embryo, and it continues its production of a hormone called progesterone. Without the hormonal signals from the HCG, progesterone levels would become lower and lower towards the end of the monthly cycle, triggering the start of menstruation. But when the egg is fertilized and progesterone levels remain high, the uterine lining continues to develop rather than being shed during menstruation. This ensures a safe, thick lining of endometrium in the uterus, for the fertilized egg to implant and pregnancy to begin.

This delicate balance of HCG from the growing embryo and progesterone from the corpus luteum continues for about 10 weeks past ovulation, until the placenta becomes mature enough to take over. Then the placenta continues the process of producing both of these important hormones, and continues to maintain just the right levels all the way through pregnancy.

3) Another important hormone that is produced by the placenta is estrogen. The levels of this hormone are very low during the early parts of pregnancy, but rise steadily during the second and third trimesters, particularly towards the very end of pregnancy.

There are two important reasons for these increasing levels of estrogen. This hormone turns on the receptors for oxytocin, which is an important step in preparing the uterus for labor. It is the flow of oxytocin that will cause contractions during labor, but it is the estrogen produced by the placenta that prepares the uterus in advance, getting it ready to receive the signals from the oxytocin. Estrogen also helps to prepare the breast tissue for milk production. It causes the ducts and other tissues to grow and develop, in preparation for making breast milk.

4) Have you ever noticed your pelvis and hips getting wider towards the end of pregnancy, perhaps causing your hips to slip or give out once in a while? You can thank relaxin for this sometimes annoying but incredibly important part of pregnancy. Relaxin is another hormone produced by the placenta, and it does just what its name says - it causes ligaments to relax. Part of the miracle of birth is that this relatively small part of a woman’s body is designed for fully developed, sometimes fairly large babies to pass through. Relaxin is a crucial part of that, loosening up the pelvic ligaments to allow the pelvis to open wide enough for the baby to pass through. It can be irritating to deal with the discomfort of your loosening pelvis as you’re trying to move your very pregnant body around for daily activities, but the experience of having this perfectly designed little person emerge from what seems like such a small place makes the discomfort worth it.

(the maternal side of a placenta)

5) Speaking of the end of pregnancy, the placenta has an important role in triggering the start of labor. Remember the hormone called progesterone, which helps to maintain a safe environment for the fetus to grow and develop? One of the important effects of progesterone is to prevent contractions of the uterus. This is obviously a very important step in a healthy pregnancy, and is actually called “the progesterone block” by scientists. The steadily rising levels of estrogen, also released by the placenta, reach a point where they override this function, though. Once the estrogen increases to a certain high enough level, it negates the anti-contraction quality of the progesterone. This causes contractions, the beginning of labor.

The placenta is a fascinating organ, the only organ in the human body that develops for a specific, important purpose and is then expelled because it is no longer needed. Its role in a healthy pregnancy goes so far beyond simply providing nourishment for the baby. The placenta, or more specifically the hormones that are released by the placenta, serve many very important functions, from establishing the environment within the uterus during early pregnancy, to helping trigger the start of labor, and even preparing the breasts to nourish the baby after birth. Perhaps if more people were aware of the incredible ways that this organ helps to establish, maintain, and eventually end pregnancy, we would be less apt to think of it as simply “afterbirth”, a waste product meant to be gotten rid of. Without the placenta there wouldn’t be a pregnancy to speak of, so let’s give this incredible organ the credit it’s due.

What do you think of when you hear the word “placenta”? Did you get a chance to look at or touch your own placenta, or do you intend to?

image credit: moppet65535 via Flickr; moppet65535 via Flickr.

*** Note - this was originally published on a now defunct website in the "birth business." I'm the original author of the post and was proud of my work so I decided to repost it here. :)

Friday, February 21, 2014

My Pinterest boards, aka too much time on my hands?

A while back I finally caved and joined Pinterest. Sometimes there will be a really long stretch of time where I don't go on there, but I really do have so much fun when I do. One of the things I do with my boards is try to name them with great quotations, because I'm a sucker for great quotes. I also have a few different boards for photos and human interest type stories. Here are a few of my favorite boards. Please follow me if you want to!

Of course, if I'm going to be using famous quotes as the titles of my boards, there's got to be an actual quotations board, right? "A proper collection of quotations is the whole world digested." -Terri Guillemets. There are some really good ones on here.

Spirituality is an incredibly important aspect of my life, and when I neglect this side of myself, I feel the negative effects in a variety of ways. This board has quotes, prayers, altar inspiration, meditations, interesting thoughts and whatever tickles my spiritual fancy. "We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience." -Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

Photos of beautiful, happy, resilient children. They are such amazing little people. <3 "The soul is healed by being with children." -English Proverb

In a future snapshot of my life, I see myself tending lots of beautiful garden space and growing a great deal of our food. This board is a collection of gardening tips, tricks, and inspiration. "I have always thought a kitchen garden a more pleasant sight than the finest orangery." -Joseph Addison

Human bodies! Old, young, male, female, all different shapes and sizes. What story will your body tell? "Our bodies are apt to be our autobiographies." -Frank Gillette Burgess.

Poverty is a problem, all around us, right under our noses. "Poverty is no disgrace to a man, but it is confoundedly inconvenient." -Sydney Smith

People who have made a difference. "Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not." -Dr. Seuss

Meaningful lyrics are one of my favorite aspects of music, and here one of my favorite boards is a collection of lyrics, artfully arranged. "Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent." -Victor Hugo

And for a laugh, my someecards collection. I LOVE these. someecards hilariousness!

Connecting with our kids.

After a long and harrowing week I was browsing around on Pinterest looking for inspiring blogs and fantastic quotes about parenting mindfully and peacefully. This fantastic series is one that I came across, and I will link to it here.

The series is called 10 simple ways to connect with your child. It was originally posted as a weekly series but all of the posts are up so you can see the whole set now. It still seems like it might be worth it to do the exercise one week at a time, though, to really focus on each one. Each of these concepts is so simple but makes such a big difference to kids - or, really, to anybody we know and love. <3

(From the Human Rights for Human Children Facebook page, which shares a lot of fantastic quotes and information, by the way)

The way we talk to our children...

Because I need this reminder...

(image found here)

Monday, February 17, 2014

Feeling beautiful.

At the risk of showing how insecure and shallow I can really be ;-) I have been struggling with my postpartum body this time around. Before getting pregnant with Baby Girl I was, for the first time, at my pre-kids weight, the same weight and clothing size I was when my husband and I got married 8 years ago when I was 23. After so much work to get so far, losing 80 pounds from my heaviest recorded weight, I feel set back and a little frustrated about having to put away those small, cute clothes.

In a confusing twist, though, at the same time I feel beautiful, and today I realized that I feel more beautiful than I did after either of my older two kids were born.

Is it because of the weight? I don't know, it might be. After my oldest was born I had major body issues in general, having had an unplanned c-section and having to process feelings about my body "failing" in childbirth. My postpartum depression was intense and as quickly as I lost the pregnancy weight after he was born, I gained it back by scarfing down starchy comfort food. After my second was born I felt fantastic, in comparison - no PPD, I healed very well from his birth, got right back into my routine. But I was heavy when I got pregnant with him, so of course I was still heavy after he was born, and I wasn't particularly happy with my hair, and was having some random skin issues at the time, and so on and so forth. I felt pretty good but wasn't feeling particularly beautiful.

This time I don't know what it is. I'm around 160 pounds and around a size 12. Quite a bit larger than the 140 and size 6 to 8 a little over a year ago. But that's okay, I'm fine with it, so I don't know if it's really about the weight. Maybe it's in the hair, I'm quite a bit happier with my hair these days. But I don't think it's really as shallow as that. Maybe it's the self-confidence I got from delivering Baby Girl at home with nobody but my husband and I. (Long story short, labor was looooooong long long, but then when things finally progressed it was FAST and she was born before my midwife arrived!) I think most of what is beautiful comes from underneath, from things that are unseen, things like self-confidence, inner strength, kindness and generosity.

For the past couple of years I've been on a journey of natural healing and wellness, working on myself emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually as well as physically. Maybe all of that under the surface of my skin and my hair and my weight and everything else that is visible on the outside is what shines in me and makes me feel like I've got some of that beautiful earthy mama vibe going on. Whatever it is, I love it and I vow to make a conscious effort to hold onto this feeling, and remind myself of it when I am feeling rather lumpy and dumpy about my appearance.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Thinking about goals

Before Baby Girl came along I'd been starting to think about my professional development, and now that she's here and she's an amazingly calm and chill baby and we're getting into a pretty good routine, I've been starting to think about that again.

It's funny, until last year I've always said that I wasn't particularly interested in being a birth worker of any kind. But for some reason I started thinking about it while I was pregnant with her, and now thinking about being with birthing women and newborn babies just seems like the natural thing for me to do. So one of my major goals is to be a doula. I'd like to work with women and their partners during the pregnancy, be there to support them at the birth, and then (this is actually the part I'm most excited about) help out in the postpartum period, with whatever she needs help with as she gets used to life with the new baby for the first 8 weeks or so.

Before that, my number one goal is to register with the NAHA as a trained aromatherapist. 

There are other things I hear about and look into and have a great deal of interest in. But for now those are my two major goals. Some of my other interests include massage, reflexology, herbal studies, nutrition, yoga, and pretty much anything to do with newborns and mothers - infant care, breastfeeding, baby wearing, safe sleep, and so on. Some of those, I'm sure, will be worked into my career and some won't. My plan is to be self employed so that I can work directly with families and have a great deal of flexibility in my schedule.

For now my main plan is to be present with our young kids, particularly BooBoo and Baby Girl, who are still home with me while Bug is in school during the day. But I'm thinking that within this year I'd like to get enrolled in an aromatherapy program, and I've even started scoping out different programs at various schools. It's exciting to think about being in school again, eight years after graduating! 

First post, here we go!

My name is Nathalie. My education is in psychology and my work experience is in early childhood development, but my last five years of life experience have been in the role of stay at home mom. My three amazing children are Bug, 7 1/2, BooBoo, almost 4, and Baby Girl, 3 months. I've been married to The Man for 8 1/2 years!

There have been other writing and blogging projects, but it's been a while and I'm a little rusty. 2013 was a whirlwind of a year and I left behind a few different loves and interests, things that I have been trying to pick back up and start again in my life. Writing was one of those things. Lately as I've been starting to poke my head up out of my little gopher hole and catch glimpses of the world outside of nursing and diaper changes and snack time and play time and episodes of Blues Clues, I've been starting to reconnect with parts of myself that seem to have been hibernating. Now that the various crisis situations have smoothed over and we got to bring a chaotic year to a beautiful end with the birth of our calm, content, happy, peaceful, beautiful little girl, and now that we're getting into a pretty good routine as a brand new family of five, I've been thinking a lot about all of the little pieces I want to put into place in order to build the professional background and the career I have in mind. My mind always works best when I am reading and writing regularly, and my year-long writer's block seems to have come to an end, so I think it's a great time to start fresh with a new blog.

Here's to fresh starts! This blog is to keep my writing wheel turning and to give me an outlet. Feel free to follow along or not, I won't be offended if it isn't your thing!