The Parent Trip: Jenny and Burton Mills of Chestnut Hill

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Jenny and Burton Mills with daughter Talula Josephine.

In lieu of flowers, the bridesmaids bore rocks.

Each woman carried a nugget of Block Island, then they walked to an open field and set the rocks down in a circle. It was June 2013, and the longest day of the year. Jenny and Burton stepped into the center of the ring, where they spoke vows extemporaneously - whatever brimmed in their hearts at that moment.

This wedding, in a place Burton had visited as a child and where he'd nearly proposed to Jenny after seven months of courtship, was a chance to let family and friends see who they were as a couple - not only during the ceremony, but at brunch the next day, at the beach, and at a bonfire where a friend strummed guitar.

They'd met on the dance floor at a fund-raiser for spinal cord research: She was the woman with the dazzling smile, drinking beer with friends, and he was the guy in the plaid newsboy cap who boogied over to clink glasses and confidently introduce himself.

At the time, Jenny was in the Sex and the City phase of her life, relishing her studio apartment near Rittenhouse Square, writing her own agenda. Burton was more sure about commitment: "I remember, in the first three months, telling my dad, 'This is it.' "

Since college, Jenny had practiced yoga and mindfulness meditation, and she gradually introduced Burton to the concepts. He was an athlete who'd played hockey all his life, but the first time he tried a 20-minute meditation, he could hardly tolerate the effort. With Jenny's encouragement, he worked up to half-day silent meditation retreats and found the practice eased his self-doubts about work and professional identity.

Jenny, meantime, worked with children and developed Roots & Wings, a business that fosters mindfulness practices in K-12 classrooms, universities, workplaces, and families. But she wasn't sure about bringing children into her life. "There were periods when I really wanted to travel, do our own thing and not have kids."

Burton had his own doubts: Was this a world worthy of new life? If they had a baby, would it be for the child's sake or for their own? "Ultimately, I thought I was going to regret missing the experience of being a parent."

That realization coincided with a spike of "baby fever" on Jenny's part. She became pregnant while the two were on a yoga retreat in Costa Rica; in their giddiness, they spilled the news to concentric circles of people - parents, friends, the clerk in the grocery checkout line.

Both wanted a natural birth with as little medical intervention as possible. While working with midwives at Lifecycle WomanCare in Bryn Mawr, as well as with a doula, they also followed a home study course of "Hypnobabies," an approach that uses self-hypnosis and relaxation techniques to manage childbirth.

Jenny listened to the CD of soothing affirmations - "Pregnancy is natural, normal, healthy, and safe for me and my baby. . . . My body knows just what to do." She and Burton mastered the Hypnobabies lingo: "Contractions" became "pressure waves" and "labor" was "birthing time." Each night, he murmured to her from the partner scripts, counting down from 10 with a hand cradling Jenny's shoulder, reminding her to go limp and put her body in the "off" position.

The day of their baby shower - a typical Jenny-and-Burton festival, with 70 people in an Italian restaurant in North Jersey - Jenny began to leak amniotic fluid. A nerve-racking drive back to Philadelphia (despite the Hypnobabies CD playing affirmations in the car) and a sleepless night landed them at Bryn Mawr Hospital; midwives wanted to induce labor because Jenny's fluid had been leaking for more than 24 hours.

"I had to deal with my fears; this was not what I'd planned," says Jenny, who had envisioned laboring in the homey atmosphere of the Birth Center. So she and Burton simply imported that ambience to the hospital, with peppermint and eucalyptus aromatherapy oils, a CD of singing meditations, and printed copies of the phrases they'd been chanting for weeks.

"One minute we were eating chicken parm, then - BAM - my water broke, and immediately I had contractions two minutes apart." That continued for three hours, Jenny pushed for one hour, and there was Talula, caught by the midwife and hot-potatoed into Burton's hands.

The Hypnobabies techniques worked, Jenny says. "Every time I felt a contraction coming on, I had to visualize completely going limp, releasing my muscles and letting go of all tension in my shoulders, neck, and face."

But no affirmations had prepared them for the shock of an actual baby, three weeks ahead of schedule, a vernix-slicked infant with arms and legs akimbo and mouth wide open.

"I really thought I was going to have this immediate connection to her," Burton says. "But it took a little while for me to feel the bond."

"Even for me," Jenny says, "the first week, my nipples were bleeding, I wasn't sleeping; there was this little person sucking on my body, and I was responsible for keeping her alive. The gravity of that is overwhelming."

Burton still practices yoga, when he's not making dinner, changing diapers, or walking their English pointer. They took Talula to North Jersey to meet their families when she was six days old, and to a Buddhist meditation group at three weeks. Apple-picking and a costume party are on this month's agenda.

"I don't want to be cooped up in my house every day, not brushing my teeth. I'm making an effort to keep living my life," Jenny says.

Mindfulness practice reminds them both to plug into the moment - this moment, with dog hair on the couch and a heap of unfolded laundry, a syllabus not yet written, and a proposal deadline dissolving before Jenny's eyes. They plant their feet on the floor, release the grip of to-do lists, and take in the infant nuzzling their necks, her sweet weight, her breath blending with their own.


The Parent Trip

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