Thursday, February 12, 2015

Not just one, but TWO new additions to our farm

Last Friday we welcomed adorable newborn ewe lamb Tallulah to the farm. Maggie and I got to watch her birth out of our kitchen window, then rushed to get to meet her within her first minutes of life, while she was covered in gloop and being licked clean by her mama. 

It was a pretty special experience, but we had an even more exciting experience the day before Tallulah's birth: we found out that we'll have another new addition to the farm in October 2015. That's right.  I am pregnant again and all three of us are absolutely overwhelmed with excitement and joy. When I first saw the two lines on the pregnancy test I couldn't stop grinning. Maggie bounced off the walls the rest of the day, she was so thrilled. 

 I feel peace in embracing the joy of expecting this new member of our family, my third baby. Do I fear that this baby will leave us as Wendell did, that we will experience another stillbirth or miscarriage? The thought is in the back of my mind, of course, and in my experience pregnancy goes hand in hand with anxiety naturally anyway, but right now the most prominent feeling I have is peace. I know I can survive losing a baby, that my marriage can survive, that my daughter can survive. And really, not only survive, but come out stronger and wiser and more in touch with life and love and reality. 

I suppose sometime soon I need to share in this space about the process of Wendell's birth. I feel deeply that how he was born, the support I had, the thoroughly spiritual experience I had of laboring naturally with my husband at my side, the connection I had with my dear midwife Joanne, has very much informed how I feel now about Wendell's birth and death. I look back at our story and think, "I was not traumatized by this birth. I am not afraid to get pregnant and give birth again." I had a birth that I am proud of. 

There's a lot to be thankful for with this new baby, even as we continue to miss having Wendell here with us. It is a bittersweet joy because I know that if Wendell had been born healthy on his due date, we'd have a seven week old baby boy instead of a six week old new pregnancy. This new baby wouldn't exist if Wendell was alive. But that is okay, to feel those conflicting emotions. I don't feel a need to separate my emotions and am okay with whatever they need to be during this pregnancy: joy, grief, gratitude, peace, anxiety, fear, sadness, anger. Whatever emotions need to come will come and we will all get through them and be all the stronger for them.

For now, I'm basking in the joy of carrying new life... and keeping my fingers crossed that with this pregnancy I can avoid the intense morning sickness I had with Wendell. ;)

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Little Homestead

Really, this is why I love homeschooling so much -- because a "school day" means reading one of my favorite childhood books in bed on a cold and rainy morning, snuggled under the warm comforter, still in our pajamas with the cat purring at our feet.

We've begun the Little House series of books, beginning with Little House in the Big Woods. This morning we read about Pa smoking venison in a dead hollow tree, a panther chasing Grandpa through the woods, and Laura and Mary helping Ma churn butter.

I've got plenty of wonderful activities and related projects planned for us - yes, of course we will be churning butter! Homeschool isn't always fun or easy, but it's often this enjoyable and I relish these moments spent together happily learning.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Strong Girls and an Intention for the New Year

I've got a blue t-shirt that I inherited from Josh. Maggie has a matching shirt in red; Josh got it at a 5k run he and Maggie did last June, when I was about three months pregnant with Wendell.

The 5k was called "Strong Girls" and the logo is emblazoned on both the front and back of the shirt. I picked this shirt as the one to bring to the hospital as part of my "going home" outfit. I picked it because it was soft and loose-fitting and because I knew I'd need the reminder -- I am a Strong Girl. I can do hard things.

I picked that shirt out of my dresser only hours after the middle-of-the-night ultrasound that showed our son had no heartbeat. Earlier that morning, after a sleepless night, I sat in the bathtub blankly staring at the wall, wondering how I was going to get through what I knew I had to get through. How was I going to labor to deliver my dear son, knowing that there would be only silence when he entered the world? How could it be that I had to do this huge, wrenchingly sad thing? There was no one else who could go through the process for me. I would have to do it all myself. The only way through the dark valley was to walk through it.

I wore that Strong Girl shirt during the last moments I spent with my baby son, after the six hours that I labored without pain medication while Pitocin-induced contractions ripped through my body. I wore that Strong Girl shirt during the moments when I laid Wendell's body out on the bed and looked at every tiny part of his tiny self and kissed him and told him I loved him. I leaked milk all down the front as I kissed him and it seemed appropriate because I was so craving the ability to nurture him, to take care of him, even as I knew I had to prepare myself to get up and leave him. I wore that Strong Girl shirt as I handed his body to the nurse, walked down the hall out of the Maternity wing, and exited the hospital.

If I've learned anything this last year, it is this: I am a Strong Girl. I've borne two children in my life and have buried one. I've labored for six hours on Pitocin with no pain medication. I've learned to ask for help and to receive it when it is offered. I've learned to love myself, to have confidence in my own ability. I've produced milk and given almost 500 ounces to feed other mamas' infants. I've come out holding life as all the more precious. I've learned there is strength in weakness and that walking in vulnerability is a beautiful thing.

I went through most of my life thinking I was a failure, a flake. I didn't think I could follow through with anything. I felt doomed to destroying relationships, to shattering my own hopes. Early in life I had absorbed the message that I was inherently wrong at the core and no amount of self-help books or pep talks could wipe that away.

Last year, I began to believe something new: that I had inherent worth and goodness in my core. As the veil of self-hatred and self-doubt began to lift, I began to be able to tap into inner resources I never realized I had. I received love and support from other women who had been in the same dark place that I had and had come out on the other side. I was told over and over again, by their actions and words, that what happened in my life was important and that I was loved and cared for and worthy of good things. Worthy of health and a life lived fully and in the light.

As I've learned about self-care, I've seen how when I put myself first, I have so much more to give.

My intention for this year is simple in theory, yet complex in execution: To love myself more deeply. To love myself right where I am, not when I lose ten pounds or get up early every day or cook dinner every night. To love myself in all my beautiful, broken, imperfect humanity and embrace the wholeness that comes with authentic imperfection. To remember that I am a Strong Girl and capable of doing strong things.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Leaving 2014 Behind

A dear friend asked me this week how New Year's was for me. In truth, it wasn't easy. It isn't easy moving into a new year because this new year, 2015, is one in which Wendell won't be alive. He was alive and present in my life in 2014 and moving on from that year feels like moving on from him. I know I can't go back to when he was alive. I would if I could. Even so, it hurts to move forward.

I've got friends who had hard things, very hard things and great losses, happen in 2014. And some of them have said "good riddance" to 2014. And I understand that. But to me, 2014 was a precious year. The year my son was alive in my womb for seven months. The year I met him and saw his precious face and held him close. The year I said goodbye to him and saw his body buried in a little plastic box under about two feet of soil.

Wendell will always be a part of me, yes, a part of my life. He's in my heart forever. But he won't be a living part of my life for any year other than 2014. That's tough. It feels like one more layer of separation between me and him. As much as I want to move on, to be happy, and know that I honor Wendell's life and death in that way, I hate to feel I'm leaving him behind.

The same dear friend who read the words I texted her reminded me of what I said after having to leave Wendell's body with the nurses in the hospital -- that when I was pregnant, looking forward to being Wendell's mother, I never thought I would leave my baby. I never should have had to leave him. And the passing of time hurts in a similar way. I have to move on because I have no choice, in the same way that I had no choice but to leave his tiny body in the arms of the labor and delivery nurse at the hospital. I move on because it's what I have to do and I do it simply by doing it.  That doesn't mean it doesn't hurt, though, and that I don't miss Wendell awfully.

With that said, I look back on 2014 and am grateful for it all -- the joy, the pain, the deepening appreciation for what I have and what I have lost. I am a better person because of the life of my small son. Last year is one I'll treasure always and as I move forward into this new year I have faith that it will be filled with beauty and tears of both joy and sadness. I welcome it all.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Due Date

Tomorrow is Wendell's due date. I have it penciled in to my daily planner. Maggie wrote on her Littlest Petshop calendar, for the month of December, "WENDELL'S FRST BRTHDAY." 

But it won't be.

I'm in that strange place now where mostly, I'm ok. Really, I am functioning close to normalcy. No more nights of waking up sobbing or days of walking through an exhausted fog. The new difficulty to tackle is that it all seems normal - and this normal everyday life makes me question things. Did Wendell really exist? His birth seems like it was long ago, maybe even something that happened to someone else. Am I forgetting my baby? Already I don't think of him every minute or every hour. Will it eventually be that there are days at a time when I forget that I even had a beautiful little son who didn't survive?

I had rather a perfect encounter this week that showed me otherwise. I had been referred by a friend to a lady she said had been through a similar experience. When I called that lady, she told me about her son who she had lost two days after birth -- twenty-six years ago. In fact, this week was his birth day anniversary. As she spoke of her baby, she wept. Twenty-six years later, she wept remembering her long-gone son.

That was what I needed. Reassurance that never would I ever forget Wendell. 

He was a part of my body for seven months, fused together with my flesh. He will be a part of me always.

We haven't yet picked out a headstone for Wendell's tiny grave, which is just a few miles away in a community cemetery. That stone seems so final - a last hurdle to jump, one more time that I know I will cry in public in front of strangers, just as I sobbed in front of the kindly wheelchair-bound funeral director at the funeral home as he showed us the tiny, tiny white plastic coffin that would be Wendell's last resting place. 

How do you decide the words that will be carved into stone to tell the world what you felt about this tiny being who was there then gone? The words that keep coming back to me are "Always loved, never forgotten." Because that is the truest truth there is. I won't forget my son. Even if I'm not prostrate on the floor with grief every day, I will always be sad he isn't here with us, where he belongs.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Fears Cast to the Wind

Here's what I think every mama does: looks at those comforting statistics that say hey, once you get past about 20 weeks your chances of miscarrying drop drastically to about 2%. But that statistic becomes a huge anvil coming at your head when you realize, wait - two percent means that two mamas out of every hundred lose their baby. Then the odds seem much more real and less on your side. In fact, the odds weren't in my favor or in Wendell's favor and that is a hard thing. 

We are on the verge of trying for our second baby, our third child. It is exciting and confusing and I feel a little mixed up but then again not really because I know, I know, I know in my heart that Wendell will always be with me. He'll always be my firstborn son and I will always love him and wanting another baby doesn't change any of that one iota, any more than creating Wendell and loving him changed my love for Maggie. Each of my children are individual and precious and that's set in stone.

We are barging ahead, full speed, fears cast to the wind because the alternative is to be bogged down in terror and that's not what I want. And the alternative, for me, would be to negate the joy of Wendell's existence. I'd conceive and carry him all over again a thousand times, even if I knew that every time would have the same outcome, that he'd never get to come home with us. Even though he didn't survive, he still existed. He was still part of our family. He still grew inside me and I got to hold him closer than I've ever held anyone besides Maggie. We still got to meet him, hold him in our arms, see his sweet face, tell him we loved him. The honor of all those things, the honor of knowing Wendell, that made all the pain worth it. 

The doctor who delivered Wendell told us that he doesn't know why our baby died. In something like 60% of stillbirths the cause is unknown, so parents usually don't ever get a conclusive answer. Thankfully, the OB who delivered Wendell has no reservations with us trying to make another baby. I've got a point in my favor that I've carried a healthy pregnancy already - Maggie Mae is living proof - so I don't have to fear a blood clotting disorder or other issues that some mamas of stillborn babies have to tackle. I'm thankful that my body was up to the task of carrying and delivering Wendell, that it was not due to any known mechanical error on my body's side that we lost him. That gives me faith in hoping for another baby.

But I'm sure the truth is that I will have fears whenever my next pregnancy happens. I trust it will be when my body is ready, whenever that is. I'm hoping for sooner rather than later. There is still an ache in me to carry a child, to feel kicks inside me, to give birth in a home environment with my husband and midwife cheering me on, to nurse my little one, to be sleep deprived and gobsmacked in love with a tiny new creature that I created with Josh. I know fear will come with pregnancy, but doesn't it always, anyways? What I'm hoping for and praying for is to not be paralyzed with it -- and to approach that new experience, when it comes, with open hands.

When I carried Wendell in my body, I was learning the art of being present. I have such a slippery, meager grasp on that art but it began to grow as Wendell grew inside me. He was my sidekick in that venture, as my most frequent practice time was when I would finally settle into bed after a long day on my feet, with Josh sleeping soundly beside me. Without fail, the moment my body came to rest, Wendell would begin to kick my belly. I'd sit and breathe. Sometimes silent, sometimes repeating a mantra of love and gratitude and peace.

More of that, a deeper understanding of serenity and being present in the moment, is all I can hope for in my next pregnancy. I do pray I will get to meet my next child while he or she is alive and healthy. I hope for longer than just seven short months in utero. I hope I get to bring my next baby home with me. But even if seven months in utero that is all I get, even if I get less than that, I want to rejoice over that time and live it fully and love my baby even if I only get to do so from outside my body. I read a beautiful story of a woman who lost multiple babies through miscarriage and stillbirth. Rather than shutting down during her subsequent pregnancies, clamming up with fear and hoping to squash her feelings so she wouldn't feel attached to her baby, she dove in head first to making each pregnancy a beautiful time with her baby. She embraced the time she had, knowing that although she had no guarantee that she'd get to bring her baby home, at least she'd have this time with it to cherish and make the most of.

That's what I want -- to love my next baby with all I've got, just like I loved Wendell. With my whole heart and without reservations. I want to walk in gratitude rather than fear. To love hard and strong without regret, because any baby I bear is my child to love regardless of how long or short his or her days may be numbered.

Monday, November 24, 2014


I had dreams of a deliciously fat baby boy, with ponderous drooping cheeks and legs like the Michelin man. Maggie had the chunkiest cheeks even in her skinny-old-man preemie days; they were gloriously paunchy and sagged beneath her gigantic luminous eyes that are so like her dad's. I dreamed that Wendell would have those same cheeks, but that he'd be chunkier at birth than his big sister.

Instead his body was small and floppy, already broken by the time he exited the womb. He was so unsubstantial, so fallen apart, and the brokenness of his body didn't make me love him any less but it did break me. Because that wasn't my dream, to hold the broken, still, silent body of my firstborn son. I hated that his tiny body never had a chance to even take one single breath out in this big beautiful terrifying wonderful world.

Last night I unearthed a treasure trove of photos and videos from Maggie's infancy. As I scrolled through them, I couldn't help hollering out to Josh to come look at just one more, because my baby girl was so sweet and lovely and crinkly and bug-eyed and perfect. And as she grew up, six months then nine months then a year, the short video clips showed her emerging personality, this beam of sunshine and joy even at that tiny age.

And I had such joy remembering that little Maggie baby, but also such devastation -- because I wanted all that with Wendell, too. I wanted his first episode of crazy baby sleep with eyes rolled back in his head and a fluttery half-smile, his first attempts at crawling, his first time recoiling at the touch of grass on his tender hands. I wanted all that with him, just like I had had it with Maggie. I wanted him to be my baby through all the stages of babyhood, to get to bear witness to the miracle of his discovery of life and love and sunshine and grass and sky.

But he only got to be my baby in utero. He won't ever be older than 28 weeks 6 days gestation. He won't ever see the sky or sun or his mama's face. And as much as I do have peace, and I still have joy, and I am not broken or despairing, and I still have hope, and I am glad I got those seven months with him growing inside me -- even with all that being true, it will never be an okay thing that I don't get to have Wendell as my baby for the rest of my life.

Monday, September 1, 2014

This Week on the Farm: August 30, 2014

This summer has been a good one on the farm. We haven't had any animal casualties lately (except ones that we ourselves decided on and inflicted), everyone looks fat and happy from all the nice green forage that the pasture is providing, and our ducks have begun to lay eggs! With the addition of thirty-four ducklings to the crew, our current count of outdoor animals is up to fifty-three and that will soon grow as we're expecting to begin breeding the rabbits in the next month or two once the weather cools down.

Tiberius, our Katahdin ram, has been ornery as usual lately but he's gotten easier to manage using a squirt bottle full of vinegar. I spray him indiscriminately in the eyeballs when he gets anywhere near me so he's better about leaving me alone when I'm in the pasture caring for the chickens and rabbits. This weekend we experienced his first real aggression -- he often will lean his head against Josh's leg as a challenge, but he's never tried to butt us. We were out caring for the ducklings this morning when a giant horsefly landed on Tiberius' flank and when Josh went to shoo it off the fly must have bitten Tiberius because he wheeled around and charged towards Josh. We got out of the ram's way quickly, but felt kind of sorry for him since he clearly got his feelings hurt thinking Josh had been the one to pinch him!

Wendell is growing and thriving and I'm 24 weeks along! This pregnancy has been a challenge, as I've had to slow down the pace of life and let Josh help out with many farm and household tasks I'm usually in charge of. It's been great practice in learning to stop rushing, to be present in the moment, to put down my to-do list and focus on where I am today and what I can enjoy this very minute.

Today is processing day for some of the chickens we got as chicks back in the spring. We bought the chicks unsexed (it's hard to tell sex of a tiny little chick) and out of seven we've got at least three roosters -- there may be a couple more left, but we're not positive about those so they get a temporary reprieve. I've enjoyed seeing the roo chicks grow up - these ones asserted their malehood pretty early in adolescence - big bulky thighs and legs and an unmistakable testosterone-driven strut and way of carrying themselves. Unfortunately for them, we've got no use for roosters with our small flock and if we kept them they'd be nothing more than pets, animals that we have to pay to feed but that don't give us anything in return. So into the stewpot they go! They will make some delicious chicken and dumplings.

The horde of ducklings! This is twenty-nine of them, I think. All Mallards (the brown ones) and Muscovies (the black/white/mottled ones). They fit well in the big hoop coop (best $50 we've ever spent on the farm! We've had it for 2.5 years and it's still going strong) and I think will continue to, since we will process ducks in batches depending on who grows out the fastest, so the group will slowly get culled down to just the few Muscovies we will keep for breeding.

The garden has become the hot weedy mess that I expected it to be by the end of summer, but I feel very satisfied with my garden work this year. We've produced about 150 pounds of delicious, fresh, organic veggies and things are still growing! The tomatoes are still producing a little, a second sowing of green beans and bush lima beans are kicking in, and I've got a small spot planted with some fall crops: kale, salad greens, three different kinds of turnips (I realized this year how much I love them!), radishes, carrots, kohlrabi, sweet peas. 

I love these gorgeous Christmas lima beans. I've never grown limas and I didn't grow up eating them, but these were too beautiful to not grow. I'm excited to serve them tonight alongside cheddar scalloped potatoes, grilled lamb chops, and fresh green beans from the garden. It's lovely when we get to enjoy a dinner full of foods grown right here on this tiny piece of land that we love so much.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Duck Adventures: Khaki Campbells, Mallard, Muscovies

It was on a whim that we got our first ducklings back in March, during an impulse stop at Tractor Supply where I talked Josh into letting me get some tiny brown ducklings for my birthday. I'll admit, I questioned my snap decision quickly: indoor ducklings make a holy mess. Since we bought the Khakis in early spring, temperatures were so cool that they had to be kept in a brooder in the garage and it was quite awhile before it was warm enough to move them outside. We had at least a month of cleaning nasty, disgusting messes up in their small garage brooder. Once they got to go into an outside coop things got a little better, though they were destroying the grass/ground almost instantly and slathering the area with generous servings of brown gloop.

Caring for them got exponentially easier when we decided to release them to free-range and they now require little from us. They mostly stay within our pasture, though even fully grown they are small enough to fit through the field fence and will go visit the puddles in the neighbors' yard or hang out in our backyard by the thornless blackberry brambles. We rarely feed them grain, since the sheep would gobble it up before the Khakis had a chance, but they are thriving on forage and are nice and plump from whatever grasses and bugs they find. All they need from us is clean water in the kiddie pool. It's hard to get photos of them because they're highly suspicious of us and won't let us get very close, but having some mostly self-sufficient animals is decent tradeoff.

The best thing about our Khaki Campbells is the eggs! We ended up with a drake (male) and two hens (females) and just this week we found our first cream-colored eggs hiding in the grass. These glorious ducks eggs were perfectly timed -- I had used the very last chicken egg from our old hens (who were all either sold or eaten) and that very day was when I found the first of the Khakis eggs. Ducks aren't as easy to train to a nest box like chickens will do and we've got some ideas we may try to get them to lay in a spot we want them to lay that's protected from the elements, but for now we're just happy they're laying in a spot that is easy for us to find -- they seem to like laying right next to one of the rabbit cages. That has resulted in a few casualties from sheep tromping over the eggs, but mostly it has worked out fine.

One of the unique qualities of duck eggs is a thicker shell, which is lucky because their eggs come out much dirtier than chicken eggs do. In dry weather our chicken eggs stay pretty clean and it's only when it is rainy and muddy, or a hen poops in the nest box (doesn't happen often), or a hen breaks another egg in the nest box that we have to worry about washing their eggs. In contrast, the duck eggs just come out kind of dirty, and the light cream-color does nothing to hide the dirt. I don't mind washing eggs before I use them so this doesn't bother me one bit, but ducks are absolutely dirtier birds than chickens in every way.

It has been interesting learning about the other differences between chicken and duck eggs especially nutritionally. I already knew duck eggs were preferred for baking, as they make baked goods fluffier and richer, but beyond that all I knew was what I could tell of the duck eggs -- the shells are thicker and the whites seem firmer. Actually, duck eggs are nutritional powerhouses in many ways -- they are higher in all kinds of vitamins, Omega-3 fatty acids, calories, and cholesterol. Some folks might worry about the cholesterol, but our ducks feed on pasture so the balance is heavily in favor of their eggs being a great healthy food.

We may be losing our minds because yesterday we traveled down to Moulton, about an hour's drive, to pick up thirty-seven ducklings of various ages and sizes. The photos in this post are only of the smallest eight, so keep in mind there are twenty-eight not pictured! They're all Muscovies and Mallards and the youngest are only a few days old and so teeny tiny. The oldest and biggest are a couple Mallard drakes who may be big enough to process within a couple weeks.

Josh made me proud with this whole duck escapade -- impulsively going to get so many ducks with no warning or planning is usually something that I would do, but Josh is generally a planner and a thinker who doesn't like to dive into things without thoroughly pondering them over. So far so good though, the ducklings are all healthy and happy (I was worried they had been badly cared for or were diseased, but the lady we got them from had free-ranged all her ducks and was simply tired of having them on top of all the other farm animals she's got), we're working on good accommodations for them today (they'll be in the big chicken coop once we cull the roosters and move the hens to a smaller coop), and I'm looking up duck recipes and anticipating roast orange-cranberry-glazed Muscovy for our Thanksgiving meal.

I had almost forgotten how adorable ducklings are. When we got our Khaki Campbell ducklings for my birthday they were older and bigger and terrified of us, and though they were really cute that cuteness got overshadowed by the incredible mess they created in their little garage brooder. These new babies are thankfully almost old enough to keep outside all night long with the weather being as warm as it is.

I'm pretty sure the Mallard ducklings are the ones with striped across their eyes and the Muscovies are all the rest of them (they come in a wide variety of coloration), but we'll have to wait and see when everyone grows up. The "teenage" ducklings are much easier to tell, especially once their feathers are in.

We won't be keeping any Mallards, but I've been reading up on Muscovies and am excited to keep a few to breed. We'll probably keep two or three hens and one drake and let them breed to raise more duck meat for us. Muscovies aren't prolific layers like our Khakis are, but they are great parents (both the mama and the papa will work to care for chicks), will hatch out as many as twenty ducklings at a time, and grow out to butchering size within 3-4 months. They're also great foragers and don't need to be fed much to get nice and chunky. Males get up to 15 lb and females are around 7-8 lb, which is good because that means they probably won't be able to fit through our field fence (the Khakis are small enough to and like to visit the puddles in our neighbors' yard, oops) and will stay in the pasture if we clip their wings so they can't fly.

I mean, come ON now. The cutest.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

A Birth with The Farm Midwives: Prenatal Appointments

When we decided to go to The Farm midwives for this birth, I was curious about what prenatal appointments would be like compared to the appointments I had during my pregnancy with Maggie with an OBGYN. We've had several prenatal appointments so far -- after our initial visit, which was at the actual clinic on The Farm, our other visits have been at Joanne's house. We've gone once monthly and the visits will increase once it gets closer to my due date (December 22).

Having my checkups at Joanne's house has been so nice. She lives in the tiny town of Hampshire, TN, about ten minutes away from The Farm. Her small, cozy home is tucked in a little valley, shaded by trees and greenery. She and her husband have an abundant garden behind their house, with a grape arbor, ornamental plants, and a vegetable garden. During today's visit we were offered freshly-made grape juice from their Concord grapes, tangy and pulpy, bright purple and delicious.

We begin the checkup sitting on the couch in Joanne's living room, which has a relaxed atmosphere and is filled with tiny Buddha statues, arrowheads found locally by her husband while working in the fields at The Farm, and tapestries and fabrics from around the world. Joanne always takes a minute to make sure Maggie is comfortable, bringing her books and toys to occupy her while we chat about any questions or concerns I have. Joanne asks how I've been doing, making sure all is going smoothly, and asks about my diet is going and whether I'm making sure to exercise. Having Maggie along at these checkups means that I have a tiny accountability partner -- this week she got onto me about how I needed to be walking because "Joanne said so!"

As I've shared about my pregnancy, I've heard stories about Joanne's pregnancies (she's had six!) and how those went. While in the throes of my own first-trimester nausea (debilitatingly bad, I lost 12 lb because I could not stand food!) she shared her own pregnancy nausea story: during one pregnancy she also had severe nausea, but since everyone on The Farm ate only what they grew themselves, she didn't have much choice in what she had to eat. She said it took years for her to be interested in eating eggplants and sweet potatoes again, as that was what was in season during her nauseous period.

Once we've asked all our questions, we go into a back room of the house that's set up with a bed, a desk, and a rocking chair. The bed is covered with a beautifully-made Amish quilt that Joanne got as payment for attending the birth of an Amish baby. The rocker is also Amish-made and was also payment for a birth. Josh takes the rocker while I sit in the desk chair for Joanne to take my blood pressure.

I then lay down on the bed and she measures my belly to see how the baby is growing and checks the baby's heartbeat. Today she started out using something called a Pinard horn, a fetoscope that's commonly used in Europe but is rarely used by US doctors. It's a primitive-looking instrument but is actually more precise than the Doppler device that most US obstetricians use for detecting fetal heartbeats. Joanne also used the Doppler this afternoon, which meant we got to hear Wendell's heartbeat out loud, galloping along like a racehorse. Today I also got my cervix checked, something that usually Joanne won't do until a woman is close to term, but as I've had some worries about preterm labor and bleeding, she checked me out to give me some peace of mind.

Our visits usually last around an hour and we leave feeling happy and cared-for. It is great to be building a relationship with the woman who will not only catch Wendell as he comes out into the world (my OB with Maggie was in the room for only the last 20 minutes or so of my labor), but who will be with me through the entire labor and delivery process, no matter how long that takes. Building that trust in Joanne over the course of my pregnancy will only help the labor process go more smoothly, as I know she understands the type of birth I want, knows my fears and concerns, and will be with me from start to finish.

Though we've got an hour and twenty minute drive to get to Joanne, our visits have felt like mini-vacations because Josh has been able to take off work and we always stop somewhere fun along the way. Today after my appointment we went to Davy Crockett State Park in Lawrenceburg, where we ate a picnic lunch and spent some time by a waterfall, splashing in the shallow creekbed. It was gorgeous and the weather could not have been more perfect. During our time in the park we saw wild turkeys, deer, crawdads, fish, and butterflies.