All posts in: parenting

10 Mar 2019

34

It’s hard to believe that it’s my birthday.

It’s not hard to believe I am getting older. The amount of time I’ve spent Googling retinols and facial serums this year has been…well… steadily increasing. It’s also not hard to believe that time is passing. I happen live with two small Physical Manifestations of Passing Time. One has likely doubled her weight in less than four months. The other can spell “macaroni penguin” and has me thinking about preschools… which has me  thinking about kindergarten… which seems impossible, but is actually only two years away!

What’s hard to believe is that birthdays still exist. Or holidays in general. Any activities that occur regularly according to a date on the calendar, actually. Life with two children under 3 has me feeling significantly adrift from the scheduled world. I bought a planner for 2019 – a handsome Get to Work Book – but my days and weeks are entirely interchangeable. Take a Tuesday’s activities and move them to Thursday? Okay. Need to cancel Monday altogether? Sure.

It’s even harder to believe that a day that is special just because of… me. Me? Jessica? You mean, Mom, right? Mama? Mommy? I honestly don’t know if I exist right now. I want to. I wish I did. But I’m finding amount of physical and emotional labor required to care for two very little children (while also performing the bare minimum of household maintenance) too intense for something so frivolous as Independent Thought and A Stable Sense of Self. Sometimes this feels okay – like I’m taking a (probably much needed) break from being Jessica. Sometimes it feels obliterating. Most of the time it just feels… tiring. I feel tired. Fatigued. Sleep deprived. Sore and achy ready to sit down. Fed up and out of patience. Emotionally depleted. Groggy. Bleary-eyed. Gently exhausted. I’ve become closely acquainted with all flavors of tired.

Something magical is happening, though, right now in my house, as I turn 34. My second baby is three months old now and she is changing. She is bright-eyed and holds her head up. She smiles and laughs and can grab onto some objects. Her sleep is growing more predictable and she goes to bed at a normal baby bedtime. She has big eyes and a big bald-ish head and she just hangs out on a blanket on the floor while her big brother plays and I am repeatedly struck by something I had forgotten or maybe just couldn’t conceptualize yet – that she is part of the family now. She’s one of the pack, here for good, part of our sloppy, noisy, nonsense life.

She certainly won’t remember this dramatic, obliterating winter; her brother probably won’t either. It’s likely they will not remember anything at all but life with each other – brother and sister. And now that my hormones are stabilizing and my tired isn’t the up-all-night variety, I can occasionally look at these two little people in my house, take a few mental steps back, and see what we – my husband and I – are creating.

Today I am 34 years old. I am three months postpartum and nursing – day and night. I have two children under the age of three in my care most of the time; I am very blessed to have a supportive, involved husband who truly shares childcare responsibilities with me, and also part-time childcare for our almost-three-year-old. I am still on maternity leave at a time when many women are required to return to work or lose their jobs. I’ve read twelve books so far this year: not a ton, but not nothing! The days are getting longer, and the sun is coming out more often. This time next year there will still be a special day for me, and if I’m lucky I will spend it with a one-year-old and an almost four-year-old and my husband who I will have loved for sixteen years.

(And if I’m extra lucky, it won’t be sleeting *or* snowing and my postpartum balding will have subsided so my hair will look GREAT)

 

33|32| 31 |30 | 29 | 28 | 27 | 26 | 25 | 24

02 Mar 2019

a first birth story, part iv

Part IV: The Aftermath

My son was born just before midnight – two full weeks early, but tipping the scales at 8 lbs, 2 oz.

This picture is a screenshot, grabbed from a short video my husband took after my baby was born. I look pretty much how I felt: completely shell-shocked, possessing only unconscious instincts – hold baby close, rub his back, don’t drop him – and more tired than I have ever been in my entire existence.

I requested delayed cord clamping, but the little guy came out too quiet. Breathing, yes, and making a slight whimper, but they called in a NICU doctor to look him over anyway. He was fine – he started crying without much drama – and they returned him to me while we all waited for the placenta. Like its in utero companion, my placenta also took its time. Wet Noodle Jessica had agreed to more Pitocin at some point during the pushing process, so they sent even more down my IV to encourage my uterus to cooperate. It didn’t work in whatever window of time they prefer, so an OB arrived. She did something acutely uncomfortable but effective. I’d rather not know exactly what went down… down there. Then, there were stitches. Nobody offered much in the way of detail, and I didn’t ask, but the process was also… unpleasant.

Here’s something they don’t tell you about that “Golden Hour” of skin-to-skin bonding with your newest newborn: when you are in a hospital, it starts at some debatable point in time while you are still getting medically worked-up. There are bustling medical professionals cleaning up your bodily fluids and looking for lost washcloths with a metal detector. You might have been awake for over 48 hours so instead of smiling and posing for photos and bonding… you just fall asleep, or fall into a similarly catatonic state.

It felt like about 2 minutes passed between the delivery and when the L&D nurse came to my side and said “Okay, let’s try nursing!” I was hoping my baby would be one of those crazy “breast-crawling” infants who could paw his way up to his first meal, but it seemed like my child was just as out of it as I was. Wet Noodle Jessica followed the nurse’s suggestions and offered him a nipple. My little sleepy guy (A baby! A boy!) latched on like a champ.

We were eventually relocated to the postpartum floor, and as soon as it was convenient, we let our new nurse push our fresh little guy’s rolling bassinet right on over to the nursery and immediately fell into the most needed sleep that any two humans have ever received.

Don’t birth stories usually end about now? They certainly don’t usually stretch on for over 6,000 words. But I’m on a roll, and so many amusing things happened while we stayed at hospital!

We spent our first night and day in a lactation room. “You got the last room!” they told me, cheerily. “Everyone else is going to have to spend the night in the hallway!” I’m still not entirely sure what a lactation room at a hospital *is*, to be honest, but I will tell you what it is not: an actual, functioning hospital room. There was room for my bed and a cot for my husband, but not much else. There was a sink for hand-washing, but no soap. There was no private bathroom.

No. Private. Bathroom.

If you have given birth, you will understand how disconcerting this is. I was offered, instead, the use of the public bathroom down the hall. The bathroom used primarily by dads and visiting family members. My nurse, that first night, helped me hobble down the hallway in my gown. She toted a plastic bag filled with the myriad devices and supplies necessary for a newly postpartum mom to… well.. pee. I repeated the process on my own the next morning –  I tried to be tidy, out of courtesy for those dads and visiting families. And by “be tidy” I mean “avoid leaving bathroom looking like a crime scene.”

The first night, however, at 3 in the morning, I did not care much about my bathroom situation. I cared about food. Where was the food. Why was it not in my mouth? My husband had optimistically ordered a meal during the dinner hour and as far as I know, nobody had eaten it. Where was it?

“Oh. I just told the nurses to throw it away,” he said. “I didn’t think you’d be hungry.”

I might have cried. I shoved more Cheez-its in my mouth – they were pretty much the only food product I’d eaten all day, but I was desperate for calories. My husband foraged a cup of ice cream and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for me from the kitchenette – I left half the sandwich, knowing that I would wake up even hungrier than I was now.

Four hours later, I woke up in the pitch dark of our windowless lactation room. My cell phone alarm was going off. I was hot – hormones, probably, but also this room seemed to lack air conditioning?! – and still hungry and wanted my baby.

Also, the Comcast man was going to arrive at our new apartment in less than an hour to finally install our Internet.

“You need to go meet him,” I told my husband. We had been living without Internet for two weeks! Who knew how long it would take to get another appointment! “And you need to bring back bagels from the good bagel place. And bring me my baby.”

I had assumed the nurses would have woken me at some point to nurse a crying, hungry infant. However, it seemed the previous day’s events had taken just as much out of him as it had me – he hadn’t woken up once. My bleary-eyed husband wheeled the bassinet into my room and then left to get us some internet.

In between cuddling, taking exhausted-selfies, and trying futilely to order breakfast in between the seemingly endless amount of sudden visitors (Nurses! Student nurses! Breast pump guy! Photographer! More nurses!), I had to spread the good news to my family.

First I called my mother, of course.

Me: “Mom, I had a baby!”

Mom: “Congratulations! We are in upstate New York right now and we will be in Boston by noon.”

Me: Uhhhhhhhh… okay!

Mom: Your sister will probably beat us. Her plane should be landing any time now.

Me: Uhhhhhhh… okay!

I had no idea anyone was planning on visiting us so soon. I mean, 48 hours before I had no idea I was going to be having a baby! Conveniently enough, my husband was able to meet my sister and her boyfriend (now husband!) at our apartment. And the Comcast guy. Who gave us Internet, bless the Lord.

Just a few hours after I woke up, my tiny, windowless lactation room now contained me, my husband, my baby, my mother, my father, my sister, her boyfriend, and a bag of good bagels. Then: the postpartum midwife and I think some other random medical professionals.

“Hi! Everyone is talking about you! We wanted to meet you! The woman who delivered without pain medication! And look, you’re breastfeeding! This is rare. We just don’t see this. Congratulations!”

At this point I recognized the real reason to have an unmedicated delivery: if you achieve it, some people will treat you like you are a rare, exquisite creature and shower you with empowering compliments. I honestly hope this is how all newly postpartum moms are treated, no matter what happened during their birth, because heaven knows the outcomes of a birth are about 90% out of even the most determined mother’s hands. The words of those women meant so much to me; I recalled their message many times over the next weeks, when I was exhausted and emotional and unsure of everything. Bringing a child into the world was something hard but also something worthy of praise.

“And what is your baby’s name?”

Oh yeah. Speaking of rare birthing experiences rarely seen within the walls of a hospital.. we had no name for our child. During labor and delivery this was just part of the novelty of not finding out the gender. Afterwards, it was just confusing.

What I wanted to say:

“Well, I am really picky about names and all traditionally male-gender-associated names are pretty terrible, and also I had a baby 12 hours ago and my entire family and I have been in a tiny room with no air conditioning or bathroom since I woke up from 4 hours of sleep, so I haven’t really had a moment to think about what to call this child.”

What I did say:

“No name yet! We are still deciding.”

What the delightful postpartum midwife said:

“We have got to get you and your entire extended family out of this room.”

We were moved to a standard postpartum room before the day was over (“You should really call and complain about this,” the midwife said. “This is unacceptable!”) That night we roomed in together. I kept a light on – how could you possibly parent in the dark? – and set my phone alarm to go off every two hours so I could nurse. My husband stayed up finishing grad school homework – oh, did I mention my husband had started his first session of summer grad school… oh… 4 days before our child was born? My due date was his first day of on-campus orientation, but online classes started right away. Apparently part of that bagel+sister+Internet acquiring trip also involved recording himself singing? I never really caught the details, but while my mind and body were wracked with the aftermath of labor and the shocking reality of our new baby, my husband was dealing with the shocking reality of our new baby and also reading articles and commenting on Blackboard posts. How awful.

Our little guy? He slept. I woke him to eat; he ate; he slept some more. A perfect, sleepy, poorly-swaddled angel in his little rolling bassinet bed. He passed all of his newborn exams, save for a touch of jaundice. The next day, I not-so-subtly suggested my many family members treat themselves to walk into Fenway to find some lunch; with a few minutes to ourselves, finally, we gave our child a name. We had another relatively peaceful night in the hospital; the next day, we finally installed our carseat base and then carried our little boy out the door, across busy Brookline Ave, through the weird alleyway between the Winsor School and the Simmons gym where I used to run extremely tiny laps on an elevated track, and to the “secret” place where you can street park for free in Fenway.

And then, after we drove to Allston to pick up our no-longer-cracked-screen iMac (that’s another story entirely) and picked up some take out Thai,

we brought him home.

 

Thirty-three months after that…

  • he weighs over 30 pounds and is 36 inches tall
  • he’s sleeping well in a toddler bed
  • he’d eat three almond butter and jelly sandwiches a day if we’d let him
  • he’s mostly potty-trained
  • he sings all the time
  • he asks to go to the library every day
  • he can write all of his letters and numbers
  • he can spell… at least two dozen words
  • and read many of them when he sees them
  • the other day he told me what 1 minus 11 was
  • he has a three-month-old little sister
  • his mother finally wrote the final words of his epic(ally, unnecessarily long) and overdue birth story

The End!

11 Feb 2019

a first birth story, part iii

Part III: The Action… and the Baby

It was almost 7 p.m. I’d been at the hospital since 9 the previous night, on Pitocin since 8 in the morning. Some point during that time, I stopped fussing with the monitors and talking about musicals and started… well… laboring.

I tried some different labor positions throughout the afternoon and into the evening, but nothing beat just plain standing up. I probably spent 75% of my active labor on my feet, with my arms draped over my dear husband’s shoulders. I was so tired – I wanted so badly to sit down and rest – but I couldn’t, because I wouldn’t have enough time to heft myself back up to standing before the next contraction hit.

Aside from standing, my main method of pain management was a little psychological trick I read about on some random website: supposedly, contractions “peak” at about 30 seconds and then slowly subside. I tried counting to 30 on my own but it felt horrific – the distance between the numbers stretching further and further apart as I counted. But I asked my husband to count without telling me, and just inform me when 30 seconds had passed. It was surprisingly effective – his words were a cue that the pain would soon be over, so I could calm down.

At the evening shift change, two midwives popped in. My labor was probably still boring according to my medical professionals, but to me, it was starting to get miserable. Contractions were less than a minute apart. I was so, so tired. I was crying. Not that long ago, a tiny, slithering voice had whispered in my ear. You could always ask for an epidural, it said as I stood, swaying exhaustedly. It’s a thing you could do. Now the midwives were there, standing with me, and I asked if I could be taken off the Pitocin. It had clearly done its job. I was definitely successfully induced.

They looked at me sympathetically. “Your labor is progressing,” the daytime midwife said. “Contractions more intense and closer together. This is what is supposed to happen.”

I’m sure I responded by having a contraction, maybe moaning unintelligibly, maybe weeping. Time may have passed. I have no memory. I do, however, remember the new nighttime midwife asking me a kind, kind question: “If you could have one thing to make this easier on you, what would you want?”

The answer: “I want to be off these monitors so I can get in the motherf@#$ing shower!”

Although I was situated in one of the most hospital-dense cities in the world, it hadn’t occurred to this First Time Mom-to-be to do any  “hospital shopping.” When I got a positive test, I called my primary care physician, who transferred my call to the OB/GYN department. I asked if they had midwives. They did – most of their patients alternated seeing an OB and a midwife at appointments and could choose which group to deliver with. Their home base was Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center – a large teaching hospital in Fenway, right down the street from my alma mater – so, sure, I would deliver there. Why not. My Internet research revealed that this was definitely a hospital environment, but what seemed like a nice one. No swanky birth center vibe, but private rooms throughout. No tubs, but showers! I could handle a shower. Plus, I’d planned on doing a majority of my laboring at home and arriving 9 cm dilated, so who really cares about amenities?

The bad news: my stupid water broke and I was GBS positive and now I was on Pitocin so I had to have stupid pink and blue monitors strapped to my belly and attached to a rolling cart of electricity so no, I couldn’t get into any showers.

And by the way, your room doesn’t have a shower, it’s a shared shower that is actually down the hall.

I mean, nobody is in it because everyone is lying in bed with their epidurals except for you idiot. But you still can’t get in.

Or so daytime midwife had insisted. Nighttime midwife, it seemed, was a little more game.

“Maybe we can make that happen,” she said. “Let’s check you and see just how far along you are.”

My second cervical check. It was probably 7-8 p.m – a full 12 hours since my morning check had gotten me hooked up to Pitocin in the first place. This was it: the cervical check delivered at the peak of desperation that would be so disappointing, so demoralizing, that I’d lose what little grasp I had on my pain and succumb to that little voice. I knew the narrative. This is how birth stories went. I’d be anesthetized within the hour, a C-sectioned before midnight.

I, however, didn’t care about any last thing except a remote chance I could get into the shower. Or, really, get anywhere that wasn’t in this exact room, standing in my terrible, pain-wracked body, where I had been for 100 years and seemed doomed to remain forever.

“You’re at 8 cm!” nighttime midwife said. “That’s great news. I think we can let you off the IV and monitors for and let you in the shower for a while. We’ll monitor you intermittently and I’ll check back in an hour to see if things keep rolling. If they slow down, you’ll have to come out, but we’ll see.”

Rejoicing! Tears of relief! Excitement! Somebody unhooked me from my various medical paraphernalia. I wanted to barrel out the door immediately, in the tiny window before I had another effing contraction.

“Oh, but you need something to wear on your feet,” nighttime midwife said. “Fungus prevention, you know.”

A contraction hit. I couldn’t believe what these people were talking about. Fungus!? I don’t care about fungus! Give me a fungus, PLEASE, if that’s the price I have to pay I will gladly pay it!

“Maybe we can hunt down some paper slippers?”

Seriously. I will take a fungus over wearing PAPER SLIPPERS IN THE SHOWER that sounds DISGUSTING what is wrong with you people?

The contraction passed. “I have flip-flops?” I said.

Those were the magic words. Finally, finally, I was allowed to strip down and enter the shower, and it was as glorious as any experience I’ve had since. So hot. So wonderful. And did I mention hot? Hospital hot-water heaters are magical.

My husband joined me, wearing swim trunks and flip-flops of his own; while he was mainly on Spray-Wife-Down-With-Movable-Shower-Head duty, I also recall that he opted to hang halfway out of the shower curtain every so often to continue monitoring my contractions on the timer app… on my brand new iPhone. Questionable decision; good intentions.

I quickly realized that it wasn’t just the magic of the hot shower that brought me such relief – it was the sudden absence of Pitocin. While I hadn’t had any pre-Pitocin contractions to provide a frame of reference at that point, laboring without the drug was just so… mellow. I’d have a contraction. It would end. Then, there would be… a break? A pause? The electronic data did show that my contractions were somewhat further apart; on Pitocin, they could be as close as 30-45 seconds, off was more like a minute or a minute an and a half. Maybe that extra 30 seconds between was more valuable than it seems? Or maybe the contractions were just less intense, so I didn’t spend my between-contraction time recovering or dreading the next onslaught. Either way, I was suddenly nearly having a good time. I’d spent all day in a hospital room experiencing more and more pain. Now I was in a private, steamy room with my husband, hanging out. I distinctly remember making a joke and feeling like it was the first time I laughed all day.

My nurse came in a few times to check the baby’s heartbeat with a Doppler, and everything was fine. I must have been in there a good long time because I think I also remember the midwife arriving and doing another cervical check. (Can you even envision the contortions required to check a hugely pregnant woman’s cervix while she’s fully naked in the shower? It was weird…) I was 9 cm! Huzzah! Things were still moving forward. I could stay in the blessed shower. (TMI for seasoned birth junkies only: besides timing contractions, my grand overachieving plan for keeping my labor progressing? Nipple stimulation. This paragraph is full of appealing visuals. You are welcome.)

The magical shower of unparalleled glory featured a metal bench. At some point, I finally sat my exhausted ass right down. When a contraction hit, I slid off the bench and into a squat; when it was over, my husband – still diligently spraying me and risking the life of my beautiful new phone – hoisted me back up again. It was totally manageable. Wonderful. Great. Maybe I even started to feel like I wanted to push when I was down in that squatting position? Just maybe. I wanted to keep the urge to myself, to just push silently. Stealthily deliver my baby into the magical shower room, alone. But it got too freaky, the feeling of your body taking over without your consent, so I uttered the magic words.

“I think I’m pushing?”

The midwife was back. She checked my cervix again. I was fully dilated. Go time! And since shower deliveries are not approved hospital practice, I was headed back across the hall to my room.

“You need a hospital gown,” the midwife said.

A contraction subsided. “No, I don’t,” I said. What I needed, clearly, was to get any sort of ambulation done before I had another contraction. “It’s fine. It’s right across the hall!” And I’m wearing flip-flops, for goodness sake. Who knew medical professionals would be so concerned with my wardrobe…

I did make it, eventually. I was hooked up to the monitors, again and cleared to push during contractions, if I felt like it. I wanted to try the whole sit on the edge of the bed + slide off the bed maneuver, but after one or two contractions it was clear my belly bands just wouldn’t stay put that way, so it was vetoed.

“Maybe side-lying,” I said, hoisting myself back on to the bed.

“Yeah!” my husband said. “Just like they suggested at birth class!”

I lay on my side. I had a few contractions and “pushed.” And then I fell asleep. Life without Pitocin, man. It was wonderful.

In my mind, I was resting between contractions, just like everyone recommends! My midwife-to-be sister says I was “laboring down.” According to my husband – who was standing there with the nurse and midwife – I was just plain asleep for like, a half hour.

“Maybe we should try a more active pushing position,” the midwife said, kindly. I acquiesced, and my legs were then hoisted up to my ears and it was time to do this thing, lithotomy-style. I cared about nothing except getting this baby out of me. Actually, that’s a lie. I was so exhausted, I didn’t even care about that. I was a tired, wet noodle of a human being. Throw my legs where you want, I don’t care.

In case you have somehow made it 5,000 words deep into this adventure and not yet found it too revealing, here’s a big fat T. M. I. for you. Turn back now or be forever scarred by the horrors of vaginal childbirth!

I was also terrible at pushing, surprise, surprise. “Push like you are taking a big poop!” the midwife said. I tried, but has anyone on this planet ever taken a big poop while lying on their back in front of their husband and two medical professionals with their legs up in the air? On purpose, anyway… This seemed like a musculo-skeletally-unreasonable recommendation. But I was an impressionable noodle-human. I tried, but it didn’t work. Nothing I tried worked for an interminable amount of time.

The weirdest thing about pushing was how much pain I wasn’t in. I could barely tell when I was having a contraction, which was annoying because I was only supposed to be pushing when I had contractions. In between, there was just… silence. At first, I started drifting off again. “That’s great,” my midwife said. “Really relax between contractions. It’s fine to fall asleep.” But I totally did not want to fall asleep again – I did that for like, an hour and nothing happened! I would never wake up! This would never be over! I needed to keep my head in the motherfuc%#$ng game! So I started making awkward small talk with the nurse and the midwife in between contractions to keep myself alert, and  because yes, it was really awkward to be standing around in silence in the middle of the night while everyone was waiting for you to suddenly get good at a task you were clearly sucking at. I also solicited my husband to play DJ, but like many laboring woman, I was incredibly exacting. Carole King, but not the Carole King musical, what are you thinking?? Tom Waits, but not the creepy Tom Waits. The nice, singer-songwriter Tom Waits.

While Tom Waits hoped his pony knew the way back home, we tried the squat bar. When a contraction hit, my team of hoisters hoisted me up to grab onto the bar. I hated it. It was the scariest thing I had ever felt in my life. My midwife cheered as I was lowered back down to a supine position – “You made more progress with that one push than you’ve made in an hour!” she said. Looking back as a labor post-strategist, it seems obvious that everyone should have hoisted my ass back up to that bar despite my protestations. I didn’t like it because I was exhausted and didn’t like being hoisted, and also because it was working. I was too afraid to push for real. Nobody called me out on it… so I ended up pushing for more than three hours.

Regardless, my baby was, in fact, coming out, albeit at a snail’s pace. The head was visible. Did I want a mirror? Mirrors can be motivating. I had thought probably not – who needs to see the carnage up close? – but Wet Noodle Jessica would say yes to anything if there was the tiniest sliver of a chance it would get this baby out of her uterus so she could go to bed. There it was: the tiniest, TINIEST sliver of a head, covered in hair. I didn’t find it disturbing OR motivating. I did feel somewhat tickled to see the reason for my truly excessive amount of heartburn, though.

Speaking of heartburn, despite becoming reliant on OTC heartburn meds late in my pregnancy, I had somehow forgotten to bring with me anything stronger than a Tum. I became convinced, mid-pushing, that if only I had a Zantac, I would be a better at this. I have a bit of a vomit phobia and when you have a gross acid reflux-y feeling at the back of your throat and then you start using every muscle in your body to facilitate the ejection reflex of a foreign object? That feels kind of like throwing up. So maybe I wasn’t giving it my all, because of that. Because I was scared. Because I was scared, because I was scared, because I was scared. A Zantac seemed like a reasonable request to me, but the nurse and midwife looked at me like I’d requested a Ketamine shot. “Did you bring any with you?” they asked. I remembered the Saga of the Cough Drop from so many hours ago. I gave up hope.

Here is the point of the story where a baby’s head entered my vagina. It stayed there for what felt like an entire hour. I asked my husband later – it was actually almost an entire hour. This was incredibly unnerving, uncomfortable, unbelievable, unpleasant, uncomfortable, undesirable, uncomfortable and all sorts of other un-words. It was there when I was pushing. It was there when I wasn’t pushing. This did not feel like a ring of fire. This felt like a baby’s head inside of my vagina. I wanted it out. There were probably tears. I remember saying “ow ow ow ow ow ow ow” a lot. The sliver of hairy head in the mirror was getting larger, but not large enough. I asked if there was anything that could be done to just… you know… pull the baby out of me. No. No there was not. I thought it would never end – this day, this labor, this head in my vagina. This was my life now. I tried to push when I had a contraction. I tried to push when I didn’t have a contraction. I tried screaming, I tried being quiet, I tried tucking my chin, I tried everything.

And then, all of a sudden, what ever I tried worked, and there was a baby.

It felt like his whole head and body came out in just one push. An entire human, with arms and legs and skin. Skin! A baby that had been there all along with me, for hours and hours and hours of labor, for months and months of pregnancy. Skin inside of my skin! A real person!

Sure, I’d had a long day, but how had I forgotten that there was a person inside of me? Maybe I hadn’t ever really known. Maybe I couldn’t know, but now it was undeniable.

He was undeniable.

It was a boy!

It was Leo.

 

07 Feb 2019

a first birth story, part ii

 

Part II: The Mostly Boring Labor

In my limited, single-birth experience, I can see some benefits to labor beginning with your water breaking.

1) It makes for a good story! “And then my water broke!” Sploosh!

2) It’s a pretty hard to argue with. There’s none of that “hmmm, was that a contraction? Am I in labor? Should I call the doctor?” stuff. You are leaking mysterious fluids, therefore it’s time to have a baby

3) Supposedly your contractions are more intense once your water breaks. I wasn’t allowed that particular frame of reference, so I was spared one mental setback during what would become a long and fairly arduous process.

Regardless of all that, I – in my nightgown, leaking pink liquid at 38 weeks pregnant when e.v.e.r.y.b.o.d.y. told me I would go until 41 – was extremely pissed.

Because I wanted a low-intervention, epidural and C-section free birth… and I was GBS positive.

I had just received the test results a few days before. My OB was so chill about it. GBS is very common! So not a big deal. You’ll need a round of IV antibiotics at least four hours before you deliver. Don’t worry!

The only thing else you need to know, she said, is that if your water breaks when you are at home, you’ll have to come into the hospital right away. Since you and the baby will be at a higher risk of infection.

“But that really rarely happens.” she says.

I started stomping around the house. I also put regular clothes back on, did my best to pack a hospital bag (which, up until that point, was empty except for a box of Cheez-its and some granola bars), and considered not calling anyone at all for even just a few hours. But my Upholder nature got the best of me. I called the nurse line (“Oh, you’re GBS positive? Then yes, come in right away. Well, you don’t have to drop everything and run to the hospital, but yes, come now”) I called my annoying husband a half dozen times before he picked up. My supervisor had her first baby the year before and she was 10 days early and I was horrified. Now I was even earlier?? How was this even possible??!

My husband barged into the apartment maybe 20 minutes later, sweaty and panting.

“Did you just run all the way here?”

“Yeah!” he said.

“Please calm down and go take a shower,” I said. I very distinctly remember using my nicest, most polite tone of voice.

I gathered up more stuff – how convenient that surly Jessica brought over ALL of the baby clothes from our other apartment! – washed the dishes in the sink, and left our cat a small mountain of food. I helped my husband pack his bag. I grabbed a half-full pint of Ben & Jerry’s from the freezer and my giant, tall-person sized birth ball and we got in the car.

I sat on a bath towel and ate ice cream while we drove through completely reasonable Boston traffic. It was a Thursday night after 9 p.m. We remembered where to park our car in the garage and which elevator to take up to labor and delivery. We had a short wait in reception, where I proceeded to leak amniotic fluid under my dress and down my leg. The receptionist asked if I was wearing a pad. Yes. Yes I was. No, it clearly isn’t doing the job. She reached into her desk drawer and pulled out one of those notorious industrial strength, mini-diaper sized pads and pointed me toward the bathroom.

In triage, a midwife interrogated and swabbed me to confirm that yes, my water had indeed broken. How was I feeling? “I don’t want to be here,” I said. I wanted to be at home, laboring for hours in my own space. I wanted to be sitting in triage moaning and dilated, not kicking my heels and chatting casually about what birth classes I had taken.

At one point, the midwife asked me what my plans for pain medication were. “I was hoping not to use any,” I said. There’s really not a casual, polite way to say, “Coming through! Watch out! Crunchy, Ina-May-reading ‘natural birth’ lady here at your Large Urban House of Cascading Interventions!”

The midwife’s response? “Okay. Sure. You certainly can try laboring for a while and see how it goes.”

While I silently seethed over my medical professional’s subtle but blatant dismissal of my deeply held birthing desires (“you can tryyyy laboring,” she said, like she’d met so many women who thought they might just give it a whirl but, oh, ow, it hurts! Where’s my epidural? She’d clearly never met me!)  baby passed the mandatory intake monitoring (Thanks Ben! Thanks Jerry!), and – with some concerning delay – the “are you still head down in there?” ultrasound. At one point, the ultrasound-wand-wielder uttered the sentence “I can’t find the head;” something no mother ever wants to hear said about her child, born or unborn. They did find the head, eventually; it was much lower than was conveniently ultrasounded. I took that as a good sign.

And then there was the million dollar question: are you having any contractions? Well, maybe. One or two? I’d felt a little something as I waddled from home to hospital, leaking all the way. Maybe a little bitty baby contraction? I don’t know. I was hopeful, but nobody seemed terribly impressed.

At that point, the midwife gave me my options: start an induction or wait and see. Here it was. The Cascade of Interventions. I was supposed to sink my heels into the stand, hold firm to my priorities, and insist that we wait for as long as possible. “I want to wait at least a few hours,” I said, nervously. “See what happens.” That was totally fine, she said; she was comfortable waiting up to 12 hours as long as I got my regular antibiotic drips and sat on the monitors intermittently. “At least a few hours,” I said.

So we waited… but there wasn’t exactly a *place* for us to wait, necessarily. It was a busy evening in L&D. We hung out in triage for a while, eavesdropping on another patient who arrived in an ambulance but also without any sort of imminent labor. We were eventually relocated to a “recovery room:” one of a few curtained-off beds where, we deduced, C-section mamas could recover from surgery while bonding with their babes. We eavesdropped on a different patient who was similarly displaced – she wasn’t full term yet, and hopefully she wasn’t in labor until BAM, her water broke and then she was out of there.

We waited. And waited. And waited. It was the middle of the night and I didn’t know if I should be trying to sleep or walking like a mad person. I did some of each, but mostly walked. Dressed in two hospital gowns and a pair of socks, I lumbered up and down the extraordinarily short L&D hallway. The delivery rooms (all full, no room for me); the nurse’s station; the recovery rooms; triage. Triage; the recovery rooms; the nurses’s station; the delivery rooms. I clutched my iPhone and I listened to birth stories on my headphones – The Birth Hour podcast and Anna Solomon and Eleanor Henderson’s Labor Day on audio.

Waiting “a few hours” stretched into the entire night. I think the midwife checked in on me once, and I reported back to my bed periodically for monitoring and more antibiotics. I wanted not to be intervened with, wanted to be left alone: L&D was so busy and I was so low maintenance, that I seemed to be getting my wish. At some point, I downloaded an app and started timing my “contractions;” I had a few that stopped me in my wandering tracks, left me doing some moderate writhing while I was lying in bed on the monitor, but nothing more than 7 minutes apart.

In the meantime, my deadbeat annoying husband became my poor, dead-tired husband. He stayed in my curtained off room, curled into a ball, uncomfortably wedged in between two standard-issue, non-comfy chairs. I tried to convince him to take my unoccupied hospital bed, but he declined.

We were finally granted a delivery room in the early hours of the morning. Quiet and privacy allowed us both a short sleep before two midwives entered the room.

“It’s been 12 hours,” said the first midwife. “I get to go home, so I am handing your care off to this new midwife. Also, it’s time to talk induction. We can try Cytotec or go right to Pitocin. Your choice.”

I hemmed. I hawed. I texted my midwife-in-training sister. I knew the basic pros and cons. Cytotec: it’s a pill, so if it works to induce labor I could just… be in labor. No more interventions. There is, however, a risk of uterine hyperstimulation – mega contractions. This could be massively painful, hard on the baby, and lead to further interventions; and it’s a pill, so you can’t “dial it back.” Pitocin, on the other hand, is an IV drip that can be adjusted. But… it’s an IV drip: I’d be tethered to an IV pole for the duration… and also the fetal monitor. I wanted to avoid monitoring and I wanted to be mobile. I decided the risk of adverse Cytotec side effects would be worth avoiding further interventions.

My new midwife returned, alone. I told her I was leaning toward the Cytotec, but was a Foley Bulb an option? She said it was! (Why, then, was it not provided to me as… an option? Who the heck knows…) Let’s see how your cervix is doing, though.

From what I’d gathered in my years of anticipatory birth research/obsession, the data gathered from cervical checks were questionable at best. If you weren’t progressing, then disappointment could compound with pain and lead to the dreaded epidural. Also: ouch. Being GBS positive with ruptured membranes, my cervical checks were to be kept to a minimum, which was completely fine by me. So this was my first ever cervical check, 12+ hours into my “labor.”

“Good news!” the new midwife said after she emerged from my… vagina. “You’re two centimeters dilated.”

“Yay!” My husband and I cheered.

“That means we can’t do Cytotec OR a Foley Bulb! It’s time to move right to Pitocin!”

Awesome?

Thus began the second, more medicated portion of my Mostly Boring Labor. Or “labor,” as my now- midwife sister would say, because you aren’t actually in labor until you are at like 4 centimeters or something highly specific. I don’t know. I was in a delivery room wearing a hospital gown walking around attached to an IV pole, so it felt like I was in labor.

But it was boring. I asked for a “slow” induction, so it was still another 3-4 hours before I started feeling significant contractions. Highlights from this boring pre-labor labor:

  • We spent a lot of time deciding what music to listen to, since we hadn’t gotten around to making any sort of “labor playlist.” Once shit started to get less boring, we somehow opted for a lot of musicals, since they were really long and didn’t require constant DJing. We started with Hamilton (this was 2016…) and I think moved on to Jesus Christ Superstar. I vetoed Les Miserables. Just too bleak.

 

  • My husband was really excited to order breakfast. I told him I didn’t want anything, since I was “in labor” and therefore could throw up at any time. He ordered anyway, and I ended up eating half of his hash browns and egg sandwich.

 

  • Also, he fetched me a really large, fully-caffeinated iced coffee from a nearby Starbucks! I remember this feeling very exciting. Second-time-around Pregnant Jessica is wondering why this was so novel, since Starbucks makes iced coffees all year round, from first trimester to third…

 

  • I was getting over a minor cold and had a really annoying tickly throat/cough thing going on. Combine that with my third trimester acid reflux and dry hospital air and I was being driven entirely crazy. Sometime in the middle of the night I asked my husband to scout out a vending machine/nearby pharmacy for a cough drop, or at least a Jolly Rancher or something. No dice. As contractions ramped up, it got more and more irritating. My husband resumed his mission, and the result – hours and hours later – was a prescribed cough drop. A. Single. Cough Drop. I didn’t even take it – I figured I’d wait until it got REALLY bad – and then I lost it.

 

  • I spent a lot of time trying to get my fetal monitors to stay hoisted into the proper position. You really do pay a lot of attention to that little heartbeat computer if it’s right there by your side.

 

  • I saw a lot of nurses that day. I remember the daytime nurse who seemed a little perplexed by my birth choices. In between asking me how I would rate my pain from 1 to 10 (why is this a thing during childbirth, by the way?) she furrowed her brow at me a lot and looked concerned – when there was nothing wrong with me, as far as I could tell! I also remember the nurse who showed up when I was in real pain who seemed really excited to hang out with a medication-free laboring mom – she was offering tips and making impromptu ice packs! How fun! Alas, she was only covering a shift change. In general, though, I was left alone. Which is exactly what I wanted.

 

  • At some point, I unhooked myself from the monitors, wheeled my IV pole by my side and lumbered into the bathroom to pee. When I emerged from the ordeal, there was a smiling anesthesiologist standing in the room with a giant syringe (Is that true? Am I making that detail up? I really think it happened, but it seems so ridiculous…) He said something like, “I’m here with your pain medication!” and I said something like “Um, I don’t have any pain medication,” (See!? It’s awkward. Don’t you people recognize a crunchy birth lady attached to an IV pole when you see one!?) And he said, “I know, that’s why I’m here!” And then me, my husband, and happy syringe man just stood in silence, until syringe man excused himself. I’m assuming he found the right room number at some point after that.

 

All told, it was a pretty boring day. Midwife #2 popped in at one point to check on me – “It’s been so busy!” she said. “I wish I could just stay in here with you guys!” I wasn’t sure if I should feel proud or insulted. At some point, however, I stopped feeling like I was killing time. Instead, I felt like I was in a great deal of pain. It seemed the dreaded Pitocin was working. I’d also been at the hospital for nearly 24 hours – mostly awake for the last 36 – so I was also feeling a great deal of exhaustion.

Pain. Exhaustion. The stuff of most Birth Stories. More to come, including: a baby!

04 Feb 2019

a first birth story: part i

I’ve tried to write this story so many times since June 10th, 2016. I’m afraid that I’ll write it wrong, that I won’t have the skill to turn my memories into A Real Birth Story – not just a retelling of facts and events, but a real story, with tension, rising and falling action, and a really moving message.

And that’s probably where it stops. Did my birth have a message? Does it have to? Maybe the message that birth is raw and messy and painful and never exactly what you expect, just like life? Or… Wow, look what the human female body can do with the help of – or in spite of – a supporting cast of loved ones and medical professionals? That there’s never been a birth like mine, so let me tell you about every tedious, exhausting centimeter of it?

Additionally, I was hoping to have this written and posted before I had another birth story to tell. I almost met my goal, but not quite; as I am finishing, my first-birthed child is doing arts and crafts at daycare while my second-birthed, two-month-old child is napping in her crib (like a g.d. angel). I’m feeling compelled to look back at what I’ve written here – all 7,000 words, if that can be believed – but should I edit? I don’t know. My instinct is to let my words and feeling be. This is what my memories were like a few months ago, when I only had one birth under my belt: loquacious, dramatic, and – in my own, loquaciously dramatic way – reverent. Now that I’ve done this twice, I have a new perspective about what was happening the first time around, with me and my firstborn. I can see the struggle – invisible to me, even just months ago – between badly wanting to be a mother and fearing for my health, my marriage, and my identity. The pregnancy (and preceding Planning to Be Pregnant) the long overture; the birth the loud and sudden shift into the opening number; the strum of apprehension and anxiety the theme churning below it all.

The message?

That there is probably nothing as physically, mentally, and spiritually frightening as bringing another life into the world.

That sometimes everything can go wrong while simultaneously going exactly right.

That the lead-up might be pointless, the story mostly boring, and the aftermath of anecdotes only the “you had to be there” kind of funny, but it’s all part of the drama of being human – of perpetuating the human race – and there’s really only one way I can figure out how to tell it, so here it goes.

 

Part I: The Pointless Backstory

I felt fine all day. Unremarkable. As normal as could be, given my pretty-dang-huge state. According to photos taken on my phone, the concerns of the day – June 9th – were exceptionally mundane. We got a parking ticket. I found the mailbox closest to our new apartment. I sent a screenshot of my terrible sleep stats to my sister. I went to CVS, where I received a ream of coupons.

This was my newly late-third-trimester utilitarian life. After months of planning to bring our baby home to our 450-square-foot, one-bedroom apartment, we’d finally been granted an opportunity to relocate into something more suitable for a growing family. So we moved. My miles long “To-Do Before Baby” list vanished in face of the daily labors and concerns of moving house. Every day there was something to pack, to unpack, to clean, to shuttle, to buy, to locate. Work was more of the same – wrapping up projects, sending emails, and leaving instructions for coworkers – with breaks to lumber over to my weekly doctors’ visits.

That day, I lumbered home from work at five. My husband called me on his way home from an end of the school year Teachers Drinking type event. He sounded somewhere between cheerful and tipsy. His band was playing that night at a restaurant in our neighborhood – did I want to get dinner with him before they played?

Sure. Why not. The food’s not great, but it’s food, and we were about to have a baby! We were supposed to be getting out of the house for quality couple time while we still could! While I waited for my ride, I triaged the new apartment and set upon the second bedroom. It was slowly filling with “homeless” items, like my husband’s musty sheet music collection, but it was also where potential houseguests with air mattresses might land. I cleared off the surface of my desk – the only piece of furniture in the room – and plugged in a lamp. I investigated the sheet music. Lance called, and I hopped into the car. Slid into the car? Plopped into the car? I was 38 weeks pregnant. I probably plopped.

I went from feeling normal to irritated pretty quickly. There was a coworker in the car, hitching a ride home. My arrival did not pause their loud, too jovial banter. They were, in my estimation, tipsy, and my husband was not driving like a cautious tipsy person ought. When his friend got out of the car, I asked for the keys and grumpily drove us both to the restaurant where we sat down for a mediocre meal.

Shameless, starving pregnant lady that I was, I ordered both an appetizer – grocery-store quality guacamole and chips – and a burger. Quality couple time, here we come? But by the time my entrée was served, my husband’s band started to arrive. And by arrive, I mean barrel into the small restaurant, pull a chair up to our table, and talk shit with my still jovial and tipsy husband. Romantic.

I finished my burger as quickly as I could and left with the car: tipsy husband can stumble home later. We had so much to get done – if I had to do it by myself, I would. I drove to our old apartment and started loading up the car with very important items that I needed right this second. Like a bulletin board, so I could finish setting up my entryway table. And the hanging bins containing 100% of our unborn child’s clothing and blankets.

When I parked my car outside of our new apartment, I remembered I was hugely pregnant and left basically everything in the car. Make my deadbeat, annoying, tipsy husband deal with it later.

I went upstairs. I set up my entryway table. I unpacked some stuff. I got dressed for bed and thought I’d sit and read in my pajamas.

Then my water broke. Two weeks before my due date.