A Mutha of a Vintage

 

There is a gentle humility that comes with expecting and then delivering a baby.  Something intrinsic in your wiring switches and your life is no longer all about you.

Motherhood literally changes the brain.  There is plenty of research demonstrating how having children – even childbirth itself – changes a woman’s brain.  Did you know that after giving birth the brain actually grows?

There’s no question for me how important the prenatal experience was for my child’s early development.  Pregnancy did not happen without some external intensity for me – and, really, that was regarding my work.

I could not abandon ship during the most critical season – harvest.  I had to figure out how to see the 2018 vintage through while carrying my son in the second and third trimester, and miraculously get the white and rosé wines bottled weeks after giving birth while struggling through a difficult and painful recovery.

It wasn’t easy.  To be honest, it’s been a mother of a struggle.

Five months postpartum – and I have to maintain barrels of red wine, prepare for bottling the red wines, and prepare for the 2019 harvest.  My brain is narrowly focused on one thing – my son.

I don’t understand how any mother can return to a full time job during the first 6 months postpartum.  I am one of the lucky ones.  Being an entrepreneur means I create my own schedule – to a point.  As a winemaker, the seasonality of my work drives my schedule.

My brain is still fixated on the track of mothering.  It is a full time job – and then some.  Work-life balance is a challenge.  As an entrepreneur the business never really shuts down for you.  You have to create healthy boundaries to ensure you stay in business, that you are engaging and taking care of your customers, and, of course, keeping the process of production on schedule.

I was a little late in the game with bottling and releasing my white and rosé wines this year – with good reason.  Still, it made it more challenging for me to release and sell these important wines.  I am relying on my distribution partners to see the benefit in a later release with aromatic and rich Sauvignon Blanc and bone dry, savory rosé.  Truth be told, the 2017 vintage wines that are still out in the market are really tasting amazing at this time.  Holding off a little on releasing the 2018 vintage only means the wines will evolve and taste better with a little extra bottle age.  This is a good thing!

Still, bills need to get paid.  A delay in releasing and selling these wines means a delay in bringing in capital to pay for our production costs.  The dance between production schedule and related costs against sales schedule and bringing in capital for the business is complicated and stressful.  It never pans out just right and I’m constantly squirming to pay our bills on time.

This is stressful as a business owner.  Add pregnancy and motherhood to the mix – it’s pretty daunting and emotionally draining.

Something has to give.  And it’s not going to be at the detriment of my son.   I work hard to produce world class wine.  I’m confident that I am making among the best expressions of Cabernet Franc wines available anywhere.  But making wine is no longer my first priority.

I am taking some of the pressure off of me to perform perfectly.  2018 will be an exceptional vintage, I am certain.  But, I am awaiting a major learning point here.  I relinquished some of my obsessive tendencies regarding winemaking to care for myself and my son during this precious time.  I called on some help to see things through in the cellar.  I hired a part-time employee to do some basic cellar work for me – like washing tanks and topping barrels.  My husband came to the rescue a few times to check on and top barrels and to clean up our cellar space.

This is a big deal because for the past eight years I have performed pretty much every bit of the work load by myself.  It’s been an important lesson to let that go and get help, as needed.

To be a creator or a maker… and to follow a disciplined schedule… AND to evolve into a new mom – it’s no easy undertaking.  There are a ton of emotional ups and downs.  I even resented my business for quite some time.  I just wasn’t feeling it.  I even lost interest in wine while I grew my baby and began nursing him.

I feel like I owe others a piece of me, via my wine, and it gave me such anxiety as I struggled to work.  This was especially true during the weeks after giving birth when I had to prepare our white and rosé wines for bottling.  I was an emotional wreck.  My body hurt and a part of me didn’t care about what I was doing.

It was my husband who was my greatest cheerleader, who pushed and encouraged me to get things done when I didn’t want to work at all.

I’m coming around.  Working part-time feels right for me right now.  I will need to pull some longer hours in the coming weeks when we prepare our red wines for bottling.  Harvest will require a lot more from me and I hope I am up for the task!  I am currently pulling together a couple of smart, capable people I trust to help me out during the most intense part of the wine production season.

I am asking my kind customers, business partners, friends and family for continued support, patience and understanding.  I always mean to make thoughtful, expressive wines that continue to excite and engage wine lovers.  I am also a new mom trying to find my way.  Some days are harder than others.

Each vintage tells a unique story.

For me, 2018 wasn’t just about the weather, the season of wildfires, the climate and long growing season, the effects of global warming and having scrutiny over the physiology of the grapes coming in after exposure to an ever increasing warming pattern (note:  I write extensively about the effects of global warming on wine grapes, especially regarding the increased population of spoilage microorganisms, like pedioccocus bacteria, that come into the winery on fruit that is sustainably or organically farmed, and how I need to mitigate the start of my fermentations to ensure cleanliness, purification of fruit and eliminating spoilage microbes by creating an environment for healthy fermentations completed by desired saccharomyces cerevisiae yeasts with the goal of reducing byproducts, like biogenic amines, that can taint wine).

The vintage was about all of those things and how I navigated my work while growing my son – enduring many symptoms of pregnancy including edema, Braxton Hicks contractions, and exhaustion.  Even getting the calories I needed via holistic nutrition was challenging – but, I made it a priority.

I don’t know if the 2018 wines will be my best wines or not, but, they will be reflective of the major changes  that came along during my journey as a winemaking mother.  In the coming weeks I will be tasting through barrels and evaluating each lot and making decisions about what will be the final blends.  I am excited to see how these wines will transform over the next few years while I watch my baby grow into a toddler and little boy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Winter Has Come

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I took a hiatus from this blog.  Once I got into the thick of Harvest 2018, while in the second trimester of my first pregnancy, I lost the ability to think outside of the demands of bringing in grapes, processing grapes, fermenting grapes, pressing grapes and putting nascent wine into barrel for winter hibernation.

Winter is my season.  I was born in the midst of an ice storm in Havre de Grace, Maryland in the month of January, after all.  I love snow and staying home to stay warm.  But, this year, as harvest wrapped up and the holidays came along, I felt a sense of melancholy.  This was the first time I had missed spending Christmas with my family – ever.  It’s bad enough that I don’t get to see my family enough.  Missing our family traditions made me feel alienated in our quiet, little farm abode in Newberg, Oregon.  I missed my family.  I missed the Christmas traditions that I looked forward to sharing with my family:  driving through the neighborhood to look at the Christmas lights; the Italian tradition of the feast of the seven fishes on Christmas Eve; Midnight Mass; Danish smørrebrød on Christmas morning; watching my young niece and nephew enjoy the magic and wonder of Christmas morning; enjoying the cozy togetherness, the simple art of hygge (the Danish art of coziness); and going out for the annual holiday movie with my siblings (specifically the blockbuster sequel genres of Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings and Star Wars).

I had to miss going home for the holidays because I was 36 weeks pregnant and unable travel across country by airplane.  And while many friends in my social media circles tried to console me and remind me that I have my own home now and my own family – a doting husband and a baby on the way – I couldn’t shake my winter blues.

While there’s nothing like going home for Christmas, it turns out that my many friends in my social media circles were right.  Traditions can be edited, families grow, and life goes on.  My sweet husband worked hard to ensure my winter – and the holidays – were still warm and cozy.  They were different, but no less special.  We had Christmas Eve dinner with his father, aunt and cousins; we attended Midnight Mass at the beautiful Grotto in Portland; he made us a beautiful Danish smørrebrød on Christmas morning; we quietly opened up gifts that were all for our soon-to-arrive baby; and, on New Year’s Eve we had a magical dinner in and set off crackers that sent brightly colored streamers to adorn our Christmas tree while sipping on Champagne, and then we slow danced to Auld Lang Syne.  It was all perfect.

I got my wonderful winter.  My birthday came along and my husband made a perfect Coq au Vin which we paired with a special bottle of 2011 Clos Roche Blanche Cuvée Pif.  This wine is significant for several reasons.  For one, I made my first wine for my business in the same vintage – 2011.  Clos Roche Blanche was the inspiration for the first red wine I ever made – my Oregon “Tour Rain” Vin Rouge – which is 40% Gamay Noir and 60% Cabernet Franc.  The 2011 CRB was born to go with my husband’s Coq au Vin.  It was nice to finally sip on some wine without repulsion during this pregnancy.  It was like falling in love with wine all over again!

As these annual markers and milestones passed, we were closer to delivering our baby.  On the weekend of our 38th week gestation we decided to take a last minute “babymoon”.  I got the green light from my doctor and we packed up for a much needed respite up on Mt. Hood.  We arrived at our friend’s quaint cabin in the snowy village of Government Camp.  We enjoyed precious time together – just the two of us before becoming three – cooking lovely meals, my husband building the best woodstove fires, playing rounds of gin rummy, snuggling, taking easy walks in the snow, and then snowshoeing a moderate trail for two miles on our last day on the mountain.  I was proud of myself for snowshoeing at 38 weeks pregnant!  It felt wonderful – my joints opened up, the fresh air was like medicine, and the snowfall was a welcome peace.  Our babymoon was winter jubilation.

The following week, I began early labor at home.  Winter had come.

After two days of early labor at home, we checked into the hospital for a light induction.  More than 24 hours later, after active labor followed by 3 hours of pushing, and a baby not passing through the pelvic bone, we were carted into surgery for a C-section.  Our beautiful baby boy was born on January 15th.

For a winemaker, this is the perfect time to have a baby.  The barrels were getting topped, as needed.  And plans for bottling the white wines in March have already been made with minimal work to do beforehand.  My husband was able to take off four weeks from work so that we could create our little fourth trimester cocoon.  We have been cozy at home, our Christmas tree still up (and quite a hit for our newborn’s gazing delight), sleeping, napping, breastfeeding, and eating nourishing, comforting winter foods – rich yellow lentil soup, beef chili, lasagna, baked sweet potatoes, southwest hash browns with farm eggs – our refrigerator and freezer prepped before heading to the hospital.  And, many of our friends in the wine business helped us out with a meal train – bringing restaurant quality foods and groceries to our front door.

We aren’t leaving the house and we aren’t opening up the door for visitors.  We are using this time to nurture and protect our newborn, allowing me to heal from both pushing in active labor and a c-section, and using this time for family bonding.  We are also in the midst of a measles outbreak in the greater Portland / Southwest Washington area – which is causing a bit of panic for many of us with babies under a year old who cannot get vaccinated.  It’s crazy, but suddenly it feels more like 1819 than 2019 with mostly anti vaxxers’ children under the age of 10 getting sick, but, putting babies and immune compromised people in danger.

Sign of the times, I guess.  The world seems crazy!  It is why I take even more comfort in staying home with my husband and baby for a winter hibernation.  It is quiet, healthy and perfect.  I am activated to write more in the few precious moments when I can sit down while the baby is sleeping, sip on some hot tea, and give my patient, sweet cat some attention.  I have a lot on my mind right now – mostly about parenting and processing a traumatic birth and dealing with the physical discomforts that come with healing from childbirth.  So, the blog will reflect what’s going on in my mind.  Eventually, it will turn back to winemaking thoughts and nutrition and living on our sweet farmstead in Oregon wine country.  There’s plenty of time for those things.  We are very much in the moment now, and that reflects mid winter, some solitude and the earliest days of caring for a newborn – with all of its beauty and wonder.  Yes, I got my wonderful winter.

 

 

 

 

Fertility & The Modern Woman

 

Fertility Challenge
Fertility challenge and infertility medical symbol as an incomplete puzzle with an image of a uterus with fallopian tubes as a gynecology icon for problems in female reproduction in a 3D illustration style.

According to the US Department of Health and Human Services’ Office on Women’s Health, “infertility means not being able to get pregnant after one year of trying (or six months if a woman is 35 or older).  Women who can get pregnant but are unable to stay pregnant may also be infertile.  About 10 percent of women (6.1 million) in the United States ages 15-44 have difficulty getting pregnant or staying pregnant, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).” (womenshealth.gov).

When you are a woman trying to get pregnant, all the statistics in the world don’t matter.  You just want to be healthy.

As a woman who wanted to have a baby after the age of 35, which used to bear the unbearable name of “geriatric pregnancy”, I wasn’t sure about my fertility.  I wasn’t concerned with whether or not I would have children until I found the love of my life and began to see the world and a potential family through a new and different lens.

I decided to be proactive and googled fertility and acupuncture.  I wasn’t interested in taking the traditional path to western medicine.  I came across a clinic that was dedicated to women’s health.  There, I learned about Kiné Fischler and Willow Tree Wellness.

Kiné, the clinic director and distinguished Fellow of the American Board of Oriental Reproductive Medicine, is a master acupuncturist and medical herbalist specializing in women’s health, fertility and pregnancy care.  She has a Master of Science in Oriental Medicine from the Acupuncture & Integrative Medicine College in Berkeley, CA.  She is a proud member of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, building professional relationships with Reproductive Endocrinologists to offer integrative care for mutual patients.

Her credentials are impressive.

I scheduled an appointment.  I immediately felt a good vibe about Kiné and was so happy to begin this journey.  She guided me through the process to understand my fertility.  She became a kind of yogi to me and she helped me to become my own advocate when it came to working with conventional medicine to address my needs and concerns.

First, I requested an appointment with my OB-GYN to learn about my chances of getting pregnant.  My doctor ran a series of tests to find out about my egg quality and if I’m nearing menopause.  The results came back promising.

Kiné had me track my cycle for the past year.  I have always had a short cycle – anywhere from 24-26 days.  She explained the importance of a longer cycle, closer to the normal 28 days.

Starting in October of 2017, we began a weekly treatment regimen of acupuncture and Chinese herbs to balance my hormones and lengthen my cycle.  Kiné explained it takes about six months of treatment to balance most clients towards healthy ovulation and pregnancy.

The process was amazing.  Kiné not only balanced my hormones and lengthened my cycle to 26-28 days, but her treatments alleviated my worst menstrual symptoms, including debilitating, painful cramps.  She also encouraged me to go back to my OB-GYN to test my levels of progesterone.

My doctor was very much on board with working as a team with my acupuncturist.  She ordered the progesterone test and even ordered an HSG test.  HSG, or hysteronsalpingography, is a special kind of x-ray used to evaluate female fertility and involves placing an iodine-based dye through the cervix and taking x-rays. The x-rays help evaluate the shape of the uterus and whether the fallopian tubes are blocked.

Interestingly enough, many women claim they got pregnant one or two months after an HSG.   Doctors suggest you’re more likely to conceive after this fertility test because it opens up the fallopian tubes and makes it easier for sperm to reach the egg.

I had the procedure done in early April of 2018.  The test results came back normal.

Meantime, my progesterone levels were low.  So, Kiné directed me to advocate for myself and ask my doctor to write me a progesterone suppository prescription.  This is very important.  My doctor was happy to write the prescription.  However, my health insurance company fought me and tried to change the prescription to a progesterone pill.  Here’s where it became critical for me to fight for my health and what I believed was best for my body.  My sister had a history of low progesterone and miscarriage.  The only thing that worked and gave her two babies was the use of progesterone suppositories.  The synthetic pill did not work for her and could not prevent miscarriage!

It was difficult to work with my insurance company.  But, I fought for what I knew was right for my body.  And, it took tears in the pharmacy to finally get some help.  While the pharmacist could not fill the prescription, he called a local compounder who could mix and fulfill the prescription – at a fraction of the cost!

The following month, on Mother’s Day, Sunday, May 13th, I took a home pregnancy test and was stunned by a positive sign.  I took the prescribed progesterone suppositories until the end of my first trimester.

I continue to see Kiné once a week for prenatal acupuncture and pregnancy support.  She is amazing!  I would not be pregnant if not for Kiné!

I decided to start my blog with this story because it is one of the most important stories of my life.  I didn’t know if I would ever get pregnant.  I feared my age would be prohibitive.  Our society scares women to death, especially when we are no longer young maidens.  We are placed to such incomprehensible standards about our choices, our lifestyle, our image, and our health.

Here’s my hope.  For any woman out there who is struggling to get pregnant, or who worries about her biological clock, or who feels invisible in the conventional healthcare system – please take heart.  I am over 40 years old and I did not need fertility treatment.  Please let that sink in.  I know that women have different issues and we are all bio-individuals, so you can’t make a blanket statement about a woman’s health at any stage.  Be your own advocate.  If you are healthy and take care of yourself, you are more than likely better off than you may realize.

Conventional medicine will not consider lengthening your cycle!  Acupuncture will and with results.  While you may have a normal 28 day cycle, you may have other disharmonies that a good acupuncturist will address.  These little imbalances may be all the difference in seeing results with conventional medicine.  It’s worth finding someone like Kiné to help you learn about your body.

I did not require fertility treatment to get pregnant.  It happened for me within 6 months of Kiné’s care.  My journey was to learn about my bio-individuality, my own needs and requirements.  I’ve had a short cycle since the beginning of my womanhood.  Acupuncture put my system on track.  I took tests to learn about my body.  I believe in manifesting.  And the very process of taking a holistic look at my health and fertility opened up the possibility of getting pregnant.  It worked.

Stress commonly prevents couples from conceiving.  I never had any stress because I was getting acupuncture – which helps to alleviate and/or prevent stress.  I approached my fertility clearly and objectively – but not always without emotion.  Fertility is an emotional topic!  But, I had a real team of healthcare providers who guided me through a beautiful process of discovery about myself.

I am in my early 40’s and I am fertile, healthy and happily pregnant.

The journey obviously doesn’t stop there.  I am integrating holistic nutrition to feed myself and my growing baby.  I am living on a budget, and, still I put my nutrition as my top priority.  I don’t eat processed foods at all, I’ve limited sugar, and I’m enjoying fresh, whole, organic foods whenever possible.

Kiné introduced me to Carol Gray of MamaSpace Yoga in Portland.  “MamaSpace is all about making room for babies in pregnant bodies.  When babies have room to move they assume more ideal positions for birth.  This unique prenatal yoga style enhances and supports the bodywork developed for pregnant people by Carol Gray.  The concept of maternal mobility making space for babies receives little attention in our culture, but is vitally important to fetal development and birth outcomes.”

Each decision I have made has empowered me, cleared me, and helped me manifest my health, pregnancy, and delivery goals.  Balancing my hormones via acupuncture came at a fraction of the cost of facing fertility treatment.

There are so many myths about women’s health.  Pregnancy and birth are incredible miracles.  I believe in every day miracles.  I believe you hold the power to realize a healthy pregnancy at any stage or age of fertility.   Of course, specific diseases require  different considerations and approaches.  Still, I will always enlist in acupuncture to support conventional care and I will always recommend this for everyone.