Thursday, April 29, 2010

Review: The Business of Being Born

I watched The Business of Being Born yesterday, while I held the (rather fussy) baby, who didn't want to sleep in his crib. I'd wanted to see it for a long time, but was a little scared to. I mean, who wants delivery horror stories when they're coming up on their own labor?

Well, I got through mine and survived, so I figured there would be no harm in watching theirs. And really, I needn't have worried. There weren't any "scary stories," and as for the facts, I knew all of those.

However, I still wasn't impressed. They were dealing with a really important issue -- the explosion of over-medicalized births, with an increase of negative outcomes for mom and baby -- but they weren't terribly convincing. The whole movie seemed rather disorganized. One minute they're interviewing an OB/GYN -- the next minute we're watching a video of a home birth -- then a midwife is talking about something entirely different.

But the worst of it was, they did not focus on their most convincing arguments. A convincing argument, to me, for getting birth out of the hospital is, "The US leads the developed world in hospital births, c-sections, and maternal death rate." Or, "Epidurals often lead to Pitocin, which often leads to c-section." You know -- facts. Facts convince me. The fact that there could be better outcomes for mom and baby with a home birth than a hospital birth convinces me.

But that wasn't what they focused on. Instead they went on and on about the "experience." How the experience of a natural birth is so much better / deeper / more empowering than a medicated birth. And to that I say, "Sure, that might be true, but if it isn't better in a medical sense, it's not worth it." I would not compromise my baby's health or my health so that I could have an "empowering experience." (There are people who would -- which is my opinion on people who choose unassisted birth. It's a terribly risky thing to do, but they do it because they believe in the "experience.") So, unless you can prove to me that home birth is medically smart as well as a great experience, I won't do it.

And then there were some statements that I simply couldn't agree with.
* "You will feel cheated of your identity as a woman if you don't go natural." Well, maybe -- but maybe not! Some people might not be bothered by it in the least. Clearly many people are not, because they choose to do the same with their second and third and fourth children.
* "You won't bond with your baby if you have a c-section." They brought up studies of monkeys, showing that monkeys won't care for their babies if they have a c-section. That is too bad -- but clearly not true in humans, since human mothers DO care for their babies when they have a c-section. It does seem bonding is slightly delayed sometimes -- but it does happen.
* "When you give birth naturally, you have a huge "birth high" which is the best experience of your life." Um -- no. They stated that as if it was a universal fact -- which I can testify, it's not. I was in a good mood after Mark was born -- it sure was nice not to be in labor anymore, and to have a baby to hold -- but I was not euphoric. I did not react like the natural-birth women in the movies, who laughed and cried and said "Oh my God" over and over. And during the labor, I didn't "go to another place" or "feel outside of time." I felt like my normal self. That's not necessarily a bad thing -- but don't lie to women by promising something they may not actually get.

Natural birth isn't a magic formula that will suddenly change everything, empower you, give you the secrets to the universe. It's just the simplest way to deliver a child, and the one that is likely to result in fewest complications in the healthy mother and child. I wish they had focused more on this.

However -- it's still worth a watch. I just think another documentary could be made that would do the job much better.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Spelling and grammar pet peeves

A post not about the baby!

I've been reading a lot lately, specifically blogs and forums. (Baby blogs and forums ... because that's what I'm into right now.) But they're driving me crazy with the spelling and grammar errors. I don't mean the people who don't even care about spelling and grammar. I don't read those blogs at all. I mean the ones who care, who clearly spell check and make an effort with their grammar, but who make the same mistakes so often and with such regularity that I fear the incorrect version will become standard. I hate it when that happens.

1. breath vs. breathe: The first is a noun. The second is a verb. Do not say "I can't breath." Of course you can't because there is no such action as "to breath."

2. prophecy vs. prophesy: Same thing. Also -- no such word as "prophesize." To give a prophecy is to prophesy, pronounced "prophe-SIGH."

3. done: This may be a Philadelphia thing; all my students did it. It's an odd construction with the word "done." Instead of "I am done with my homework" or "I have done my homework," they say, "I am done my homework." Sounds so wrong to me!

4. needs: Another odd construction which I suspect is regional, but since I've only seen it online, I'm not sure what region that would be. This is when they say "My oven needs fixed" or "The baby needs fed." Shouldn't that be "My oven needs TO BE fixed"?

5. voila: Can no one spell this word? Ever? Spellings I have seen include "wa la" and "whoa-la." Come on, people! If you've only heard a word said and never seen it spelled ... look it up! Or (when you fail to find it in the w's) ask someone!

6. its and it's: Do I really need to go into this? Yet it's probably the most common punctuation mistake out there; its proper use seems to baffle everyone.

7. bath vs. bathe: See breath vs. breathe. I know not everyone knows about that nice Old English rule whereby a vowel after "th" turns it into a hard sound. But you can always just memorize the words where this happens, right?

8. per se: not persay. This is not an English word; it is two Latin words.

9. myself: Not "Sydney and myself went out to lunch," but "Sydney and I went out to lunch." "Myself" isn't meant to be stuck in just because you don't know if it's supposed to be "me" or "I." It's only meant to be reflexive or intensive -- that's it! "I like myself" or "I myself enjoy spaghetti" are correct uses. "She was interested in talking to Louis or myself" is not.

10. lay and lie: No one seems to remember the difference! I lie down. Yesterday, I lay down. I have lain here for an hour. Let's lay it to rest. Yesterday, we laid it to rest. I have laid the topic to rest. There is a song that goes, "If I lie here, if I just lay here ..." Well, which is it? Lie or lay? Only one can be right! I know it is so common to say, "I'm going to lay down for a bit," or, "I laid on the couch all day," but -- it's wrong.

And a baby picture ... because I can't help myself.

3 weeks old

Can you believe it?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Becoming the mother

Today I was in the bathroom, filling up a basin to wash the baby in, when I got a glimpse of my face in the mirror. My hair was greasy from going unwashed for days, and messy from sleeping with it in a ponytail. I had dark circles under my eyes. In short, I looked a little worse for the wear.

"This is sad," I said to myself. "I look pathetic!" But I looked a moment longer, and it seemed I could see something else in my face: strength. Where did that come from? I am not a "strong" person.

Did I become stronger when I forgot about the pain of labor, got behind the contractions, and pushed this baby out?

Did I become stronger my first night alone in the hospital, lying awake with the baby on my chest because I was in too much pain to get out of bed to put him in his bassinet?

Did I become stronger on all those sleepless nights, crying as I got up because all I wanted was to ignore the fussing and pull the covers over my head?

Did I become stronger on my absolute worst day, when I was running a fever and surviving on six hours sleep in the past two days, and the baby was crying and crying because his nose was stuffy and he couldn't sleep unless I sat up and held him, and I was sobbing because it seemed there was no way that both he and I would get what we desperately needed?

Did I become stronger yesterday, when I held the baby almost the whole day long because his nose was still stuffy and his tummy was hurting him, and I had to stay stranded on the couch for hours while I got hungrier and hungrier and there was food only two arms-lengths away, just to avoid waking him when I'd finally gotten him to sleep?

Did I become stronger when nursing got so painful that I would cry out to him, "You're lucky I love you so much, or you'd be starving!"

Did I become stronger last night, when the baby wouldn't sleep in his crib, so I put him on his boppy pillow on the bed and curled up around him until he slept?

Or maybe it wasn't any of those hard things. Maybe I'm becoming stronger on baby's happy faces, air punches, and bright eyes. Maybe it was our first walk together, his first bath, our happy times with him lying across my lap staring up at me. Maybe he's giving me the strength I need by looking up at me so trustingly, with that look that says that he knows I'm his mother, even though I don't feel big enough, strong enough, or old enough to be his mother.

When I was pregnant with him, I wondered when I would feel like a mother. Right away, or would there be some moment later that would do it for me? But I'm feeling like a mother the way I started to feel like a wife: bit by bit, moment by moment, until I look back and realize I can't imagine ever being anything else.

Yes, dear readers, I think the mother magic is working. Slowly, without any of the "transformational experiences" I imagined, I'm becoming a mother.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Friday, April 16, 2010

Videos of the baby

...because pictures don't capture how perfect he is.

Motherhood makes me humble

I have known for years that I wanted to be a mother someday. In fact, I consciously prepared for the job, reading the books, watching my younger siblings, becoming a nanny, becoming a teacher. It was all part of the road to being a mother. So I must say, I considered myself something of an expert. When the nurses asked me if I knew how to burp or bathe a baby, I gave an assured smile and said, "Well, I have four younger siblings and I was a nanny!" I felt like those credentials ought to count for something. And I have an immense amount of book learning, thanks to my mom's fondness for parenting books: I can discourse intelligently about the relative merits of Dr. Spock and Dr. Sears, I have opinions about every child-raising decision there is, and I have read pretty much every single book out there about getting your baby to sleep at night.

But I've had this baby for less than two weeks, and already I'm cringing about things I thought and said in the past. I remember reminding my mother, "There's no point in getting mad at the baby, he can't help the fact that he's crying." It seemed like a rational thing to say. But when my own baby was starving and simply refused to latch on, screaming at me like a mad thing, tears were rolling down my own cheeks too. It's just the way it goes.

And I remember not understanding in the least why my mom would regale me every morning with her efforts to get the baby to sleep in his crib. "He clearly doesn't want to sleep in his crib, and you're staying awake all night trying to get him there," was my take. "Wouldn't be easier to accept the inevitable and keep him in your bed?" But that was before I knew the difference between curling up, half-asleep, around a sweaty baby, terrified to twitch for fear of waking him, and the sheer luxury of stretching out at will in my own bed while the baby sleeps contentedly (even if only for a few minutes) in his.

I have pointed out before to others that a nursing mother never enters the deepest phase of sleep. It was a wonderful argument for the safety of co-sleeping, plus an interesting tidbit. But now I crave that deepest phase of sleep like an addict craves crack cocaine.

I have read a great deal about breastfeeding, and I simply couldn't understand why there are people who don't do it. After all, it's not just better for mom and baby -- it's so much more convenient! I didn't know how much I would wish for a single day where my body was completely my own. Or the ability to hand off the baby to someone else for eight hours while I went off and did my own thing.

In fact, it never occurred to me how badly I would want to do my own thing. I always thought that a new mother trying to have a life of her own was bound to be futile -- just when you get started doing something, the baby needs you -- so I thought I wouldn't bother trying. But instead I spent a good deal of effort getting the baby down in his crib so I could blog and read up on my Facebook.

My excuse for my surprise at so many things has always been, "But my mother always made it look so easy!" However, that isn't quite true. Sometimes I saw my mother terribly frustrated, tired, worn out, desperate for sleep. And in my head I would figure out how I would do things better so I wouldn't get in that state myself. And here I am, sometimes just fine, but sometimes so exhausted I can barely function; sometimes handling my new baby with grace, and sometimes completely clueless. The fact is, no amount of book-learning can teach you what an hour with a baby can. And no number of hours with a baby can teach you what it is to be that baby's mother. Everything is different from this angle.

I foresee the future with this child as being one long string of experiences that humble me, that teach me that I truly don't know it all. Hopefully I will learn to be less judgmental and more accepting of imperfection. Because imperfection is a big part of being a parent ... just when you realize that nothing but perfection is good enough for your child, you find that it just isn't in you. You're just going to have to do the best you can.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Mark's Birth Story

(Skip if you don't want all the gorey details! This is really a play-by-play, so probably won't be of much interest to the guys.)

My mother-in-law is holding the baby for me, so I'm getting a chance to write down the story of his birth before I forget it. (Though I expect it will take more than one sitting to get it all done!) (P.S. It took several days.)

On Sunday, of course, we were at the hospital. On Monday, I had strong contractions, but not close enough together. On Tuesday -- the latest day the people in triage thought I would have the baby -- I had hardly any contractions at all. On Wednesday, I had a few strong ones first thing in the morning, so John decided to call out of work for the second time that week. I was glad to have him around, but it seemed certain to me it would come to nothing, and that he'd have wasted another sick day on false alarms.

During the course of the day, the contractions stayed fairly stable, not too strong, not too close together. I had a doctor's appointment scheduled for 2:50 that afternoon, so we decided to go for a walk beforehand. It was a beautiful day, and John had some place picked out he wanted to get to.

Around two o'clock, after a bit of driving, we arrived at Rita's. "I thought we were going on a walk," I protested. "This is ice cream!" But I didn't object too strenuously. John said we'd have the ice cream first, and then find the park. But I had a strong contraction as we were arriving, and two more while we were waiting in line. I guess they were about four minutes apart. So when we got back to the car with our ice cream, we started keeping track of the time as we looked for the park.

Well, we never found the park, and pretty soon it was time to go back or we'd be late for the doctor's appointment. The contractions were staying between 3 and 5 minutes apart -- very promising! And they were every bit as strong as they had been on Easter. "Even if it doesn't come to anything," I said, "at least maybe I'll have made some progress by the doctor appointment."

At the appointment, the nurse asked how I'd been since the last one. I told her about our adventure in triage on Easter, and she looked at me a little bug-eyed. "Why did they send you home?!" she asked, shocked. "I certainly wouldn't have." Another nurse was looking up our records and called out, "Oh my gosh, they were in the hospital three days ago at five centimeters!" "I know!" called the first nurse. They were really getting a kick out of us.

Dr. S came in the room. "Hey, heard about your adventure on Sunday," he said. "Let's see how you're doing." I haven't much cared for Dr. S, although he's the one I've seen the most often, because he seems hurried all the time. But I didn't mind him this time. After the check, he looked at me in some amazement. "You're at six," he said. "Are you having any contractions?" I told him and he said, "I'm not sure why you bothered to come in here," he said. "Go to the hospital right now; I don't want to deliver the baby here!" Then he shook our hands. "Go have a baby!"

At that point I finally believed that it would be today. We headed home to pick up a few things -- I had forgotten my cellphone, and we wanted to feed the cat -- and then went to the hospital. "Watch the contractions die down as soon as we get there," I said. But they didn't.

It felt like a long, long way down the hall to the labor and delivery ward. Then the receptionist at triage wandered off and left us to wait for a long time. I leaned on the counter through the contractions and made small talk with the two middle-aged guys behind us in line, who were waiting to visit someone. Finally the receptionist came back. "Why are you here?" she asked, a little grumpily. (We later learned they were having a very crowded day.)

"My obstetrician sent me," I said cheerfully. "He said I was at six!"

I got the bug-eyed look yet again, and she picked up a phone. "Get me a room!" she said. Then, "I've got a lady here who's at six; I need a ROOM!" Hanging up the phone, she buzzed us through the doors. "You're going to skip triage, we're keeping you."

Quite a relief to hear! I remarked to John that it was like having an EZ-Pass, skipping all the lines.

We had a very nice room with a view of the tower on the oldest hospital building. The L & D nurse later told us it was the biggest room on the floor. She was an extremely nice nurse. When I told her I wanted to go natural, she was very impressed. "We never get anyone going natural around here," she said. "But I want to go natural when I have mine." She told us that she was getting married in June, and that she wanted to be a midwife someday. Her cheerful attitude really got me through -- periodically she'd tell me how great I was coping, and how awesome a team John and I were.

There was a lot of checking-in time after that. The nurse buckled the monitors on me -- a contraction monitor, a heart rate monitor, and a heart rate monitor for baby. I hated those monitors. At first they weren't so bad, but during the contractions they felt way too tight, and they kept me from moving around. I had to stay on the bed, or else right next to it. And every time I wanted to go to the bathroom, I had to unplug all three from the machine and bring all the trailing wires with me. The nurse also ran me through a questionnaire, getting all of my history. She even asked about my dental work. At this point I didn't mind all the questions. She offered to stop talking during contractions, but I appreciated the distraction.

After a long time, the doctor came in. I had not met this one before, and was put off almost right away by her businesslike, hurried attitude. Almost right away she was coming at me with some kind of skewer. "I'm going to break your water," she announced. I was annoyed that she was telling me rather than asking me, although I don't have a particular opinion on artificial rupture of membranes. (It's one of the few things about childbirth I don't have an opinion of!) So I asked why. "Well, we don't want you in labor for another three days, do we?" was her answer. I shrugged and let her break my water. (Later we found that she hadn't actually broken it, although she had meant to -- she had broken an outer sac of some kind.)

At 4:30 I told John he'd better go get something to eat. He was starving, and I knew things were going to pick up soon and I would want him there. He promised to be back in half an hour. While I was alone in the room I tried different positions to see if they would help with the contractions, but nothing really made any difference so I settled back in the bed, cranked up almost all the way so I was sitting up. A little before John came back I had the first "real" contraction. All the rest had been intensely uncomfortable, but this one was really seriously painful.

I was so thankful when John came back! We went right into trying different coping techniques. However, I hadn't taken a class and didn't have any notes with me on any of the suggestions my mother and others had had ... so I had very few techniques to use. I really hadn't imagined how hard the pain would be to get through. But we managed all right for about an hour.

Then the doctor came back and said I was still at six centimeters. That was what totally blew it for me. I had been coping okay, though not great, and just hearing that news both magnified the pain and threw me into a state of near-despair. On her way out, the doctor called that she would be back in an hour, and if I hadn't progressed she'd be giving me Pitocin.

I was near tears. So much for my natural birth! And I have heard from others that Pitocin makes the contractions much, much stronger. I was barely coping as it was. Interiorly I decided that if she gave me Pitocin, I would get an epidural. I simply could not face the possibility of things getting worse than they were. I was in agony already, the contractions were very strong and close together, and I was tired of bearing it.

That hour was the worst. The contractions continued to intensify, and whatever focus I had had before to cope with the pain completely abandoned me. John led the Divine Mercy Chaplet, which was a huge comfort -- in fact, when we finished the chaplet, I begged him to start over again, but in the middle, because I wasn't sure I remembered the Our Father. A little after that, I couldn't even manage the chaplet. It occurred to me after awhile that I didn't actually have to do anything in particular to be "coping." I had been quite proud to be outwardly calm in the face of the pain, and I had felt that I had to be in complete control. At this point I abandoned that notion and told John that I was going to go ahead and and make noise if I wanted to. This did help a bit -- it released all the tension I had from trying so hard to manage the pain. Instead I gave into it and didn't do anything particular to cope.

Between contractions the pain would almost completely recede, so I was able to converse calmly with John, the nurse, and whoever else was coming in and out of the room. But the breaks were short. Before every contraction, the fetal heart monitor would lose the signal for some reason, and the machine would beep. I dreaded that beep. I remember wailing to John, "I'm not ready for it to come back! I wanted a longer break!"

For the first part of labor, all the pain was focused in my back. I knew this wasn't good, so I turned on my left side to try to shift the baby off my back. It did work, but now the pain was focused in the front. It was all I could do not to yank all the monitors off my belly -- it felt like they were squeezing me and causing the pain. The nurse suggested all sorts of things -- standing up, kneeling, and so forth -- but I didn't feel I could move at all. Even trying to turn on the other side was such agony I abandoned the effort. Besides, these would progress things, which meant making the contractions worse. I remembered having said that I just wanted the baby out soon, no matter how much it hurt. "No way," I thought. "I change my mind, I want to go home. Being pregnant forever sounds like an excellent option." I longed for an epidural, but was still too terrified of the needle -- not to mention that even asking for an epidural meant a fuss and people trying to talk to me, and I dreaded that as well.

Around the same time, the contractions let up a tiny bit, and the doctor came back. "You're at eight," she said, and I felt a light at the end of the tunnel. I remember being told that the worst of the pain was at seven, and I do believe this is true, or almost. I was never in despair again after that, either, and I never wished for the epidural. The doctor also said she would "remove some more membranes," and this actually broke my water, as we could see as soon as she'd done it. At this point the pain moved from my belly to my hips. It felt like my pelvis was going to split in half. I was very restless, trying to relieve the pain, but nothing worked. I tried to roll to my back, but I think the baby was wedged in the way he was -- I almost screamed, trying it, and went back to my side.

The nurse kept reminding me every time she came in to tell her if I had the urge to push. I wasn't quite sure what it would feel like, but I thought at one point I felt some pressure so I let her know. A resident checked me because my doctor was elsewhere. He said I was at nine, and there was just a little bit left to go. I sat up on the bed cross-legged or kneeling, trying to keep making progress and help the baby down. The contractions got more intense again now, with very little break. There was a horrible pressure, which I realized after three contractions was the urge to push. In fact, I was completely unable to stop myself from pushing a little bit. We called the doctor back, and found I was at ten -- complete and ready to push.

This was at 11:12 pm. My nurse's shift had ended at 11, but she had been hanging around because, as she said, she never got out the door before 11:30 anyway, and she wanted to see if the baby would come in time for her. Another nurse was in the room, too. The doctor set up a stool and pulled over the table with all her tools. It felt like we were preparing for something important. The doctor explained to me that, since there had been meconium in the waters, they wouldn't be able to hand over the baby to me right away. He was going to have to have his lungs suctioned and be checked by a neonatologist. At the back of the room, I could see the neonatologist and three more people setting up the baby's warming table.

The nurses put me in the stirrups and explained what I was going to have to do. When a contraction came, I was supposed to hold my breath and push as hard as I could to a count of eight, take a breath, and push again. (This is called directed pushing, and my opinion about it is definitely against -- I think it is better for the mother to push spontaneously, provided she isn't numbed up [this is one of my main reasons for NOT being numbed up]. Directed pushing can make the baby come out too fast and increases the chances of injury to the mother ... which is, of course, what happened to me.) However, at this point I didn't feel like arguing and I was willing to do whatever they asked. They were letting me push, after all! That was all I wanted ... by the time we were all ready, I was absolutely dying to push.

The new nurse held one of my legs and John held the other, and I pushed with all my might. At first the doctor said I was "holding back" and gave me a lot of instruction about what exactly I was supposed to be doing. I found this annoying but followed her instructions -- I wanted to prove to her that I was just as eager to get this baby out as she was. Between contractions I sat back and relaxed. The breaks seemed quite long and the contractions seemed short. They weren't painful in the least anymore, or at any rate I didn't notice any pain. What I noticed was that I wanted to push, and I got to push. Pushing was wonderful and between contractions I wanted them to come back so I could push more.

They told me my goal was three good pushes per contraction, but I managed four in each. During one break the neonatologist came over to introduce himself. He reached over me to shake John's hand. I was annoyed; I wanted to say, "We're pushing out a baby right now, could you come back later?!" But everyone at this hospital is used to all the women having epidurals; it never seemed to occur to anyone that I was actually feeling everything.

In three contractions, they started telling me the baby's head was out. "Does he have hair?" I asked. "Yes," John told me. He had been insisting for months that the baby would have hair. I didn't mind his being right ... I just was trying to make it real that they could actually see the baby. (They had asked me if I wanted a mirror so I could see what was going on ... but I didn't particularly want to.) "One more good push," they said, and I pushed as hard and as long as I could. There was a distinct "pop" and suddenly the doctor was holding a wriggly baby! He was crying vigorously, so the doctor said right away that he was fine, but they did pass him off to the neonatologist anyway.

That was right at 11:30. The rest of the story can be glossed over -- the very vigorous smooshing of my belly by the doctor, which I guess she had to do, but at the time I kept trying to push her away; the Russian guy who came into the room and started hosing me down with a spray bottle (I wanted to say, "I can shower later, thanks!"); the cold pizza I devoured an hour later like it was the food of the gods; the sleepless night we passed, not because of the baby, who slept like a charm, but because of the endless procession of nurses, technicians, housekeeping people, and lactation consultants who came in and woke us up. Instead I'll end with the time, around midnight or a little earlier, when they finally gave me my baby and I got to hold him for the first time. I loved him at once ... though not as much as I love him now.

I must say, though, that my most intense emotion wasn't love for the baby, but relief that the pain was finally over. Labor was much worse than I had imagined, and I was not as well prepared for it as I had thought. Even as late as the next day, as I suffered from exhaustion and a great deal of pain, I would periodically think, "I'm not in labor anymore!" and feel very happy.

Considering it later, I am left with a lot of thoughts. First is an overwhelming gratitude to John. He was so calm and helpful. Every time the panic started to rise up, I would hold onto him and instantly feel much calmer. I simply could not make it through a single contraction without holding tightly to him. As soon as the contraction was gone, I would be telling him again how much I loved him and how grateful I was. When I think that, if the baby had been born two weeks later, I would have had to go through all that without him ... it doesn't bear thinking of.

The second is shame. I think I've mostly gotten over this now, but in the day or so after the birth, I was tremendously ashamed that I did not handle it better. I had intended to be so much more serene, not the screaming, crying, stereotypical woman in labor that I ended up being. I had wanted to live up to my mother, who always described her births in such a positive way that it always seemed it wouldn't be so bad. Instead I felt that I had failed. I did not come out of the delivery room feeling strong and empowered, as all the natural birth stories I had read ended up. I came out realizing that I was much weaker than I had thought, that I had been overconfident and proud about my ability to cope and had been wrong about it all.

The third is doubt about wanting to do this again. I loved the baby so much that I knew I would want more children -- when the nurses asked, "You think you want to do this again?" I said yes. But when I thought about the pain -- I wondered if I could face it, knowing how bad it was going to get. For the first day or so afterward I decided I would get the earliest epidural they would give me, and not feel the least bit bad about it. Later it occurred to me it might not be so bad if only I had a better environment, were better prepared, had more supportive attendants. 90% of the time it was John and me alone in the hospital room with the monitors and the rules, with the threat of intervention hanging over our heads. Would it have been different outside of a hospital? I am going to have to think about this for next time ... the only sure thing is that a natural birth inside a hospital is my very last choice. It's the worst of both worlds, as far as I can see.

So ... who knows what I will do next time, if I'm lucky enough to get a next time. Meanwhile, I do feel better about my choice. I didn't do the natural birth just to feel strong -- it was because I honestly believed it was best for my baby and for me. And everything did go well: we did not require any intervention, and our 10-hour labor is below average for a first-time mom. Whether I handled the pain in a brave or a cowardly manner is really irrelevant when I am holding my baby. I'll just be thankful that I did get through it, and with few enough complications that a week later I'm feeling pretty close to back to normal.

I hope I don't scare anyone with my story. I have no regrets. Baby is here and depriving me of sleep in the usual fashion, but paying me back with blue eyes and soft brown baby hair. He's causing me all kinds of grief -- as he has been doing since he first started making me sick nine months ago -- but I'm not sorry for having him.

To make up for all the agony of the story, here's a picture of the baby!

Friday, April 9, 2010

He's Here

Well, the false alarms are over and the baby is finally here! Vital stats first:

Mark Andrew
Born at 11:30 p.m., April 7, 2010
6 lbs, 13 oz
19 1/2 inches long
The whole story will have to wait ... I'm typing one-handed! But we are very happy to have him here.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Hospital adventure

I was hoping to post a birth story by now. But -- no such luck. This is not the story of the baby's birth. This is the story of lots of frustration. On the bright side, it's funny in retrospect, so I thought I'd blog about it anyway.

Normally I've spared you guys all the gory pregnancy details because this is more a general-interest blog, but you can't really talk about childbirth without a few details. So I'll just talk in labor lingo, so that if you know all about it, you'll know what I mean, and if you don't, you won't be given too much information.

So it was Easter day. I had been planning for some time to have the baby on Easter if I could, on the grounds that it was the first really convenient day. With work and choir both wrapped up, I'd have nothing to do for the next week. We'd gone to the vigil Mass. So, I was naturally pleased when the contractions I was having (because it has been a week and a half since I've had none) got way more strong and fell into a nice, close-together pattern. The doctor wanted to be called when they were five minutes apart, lasting at least a minute each, for at least an hour. After two hours of 3-5 minute apart contractions, I finally got up the guts to call. (We have had so many false alarms, I was afraid of being laughed at by the nurses.)

First I talked to a rather annoyed-sounding lady. Probably she was cross at having to work Easter night; I know I would be. But when I told her how things were going, she cheered up a bit (at least it was a "real" call) enough to say, "Hm, maybe an Easter baby for you!" before promising to page the doctor, who would call me.

I knew I was going to be stuck with whichever doctor was on call, and I have taken either a strong like or a strong dislike to each of the doctors I've met. So it was a great relief to find the doctor who called was one of my favorites. She's one of the only ones who have ever even tried to suggest any help for my back pain. I appreciated the effort, even though she knew there wasn't any surefire cure. Once she called me, she put me right at ease, and, having heard my symptoms, told me to head on down to the hospital.

On the way, we were kind of laughing at ourselves. Here we were, in a car on the way to the hospital, and yet neither of us really believed this was really it. Sure, it was possible we wouldn't drive this way again until we had a baby -- but it just didn't feel very likely.

At the hospital, we found our way to labor and delivery easily enough, and after a bit of waiting around -- there was no receptionist there -- we found someone to let us into triage. The doctor had let them know we were coming, so they were ready for us. They did tell us, though, that our doctor wouldn't come in unless we were admitted.

Nurse Curly (she didn't mention her name, but her hair was HUGE) was very nice, settled us in with the monitors, and got us some water. I lay on that hospital bed in a gown for about 45 minutes or so, watching the baby's heart rate and seeing the contraction monitor describing wide hills. (And, to be honest, watching the monitor that showed all the women in triage, and confidentally comparing my contractions to theirs. Mine were definitely bigger, and in a much more regular pattern.) However, they did slow down once I was lying on that bed. Not a ton, but down to every six or eight minutes instead of five. They were still VERY strong, but I felt I was coping with them very well. I just took deep breaths and waited them out. But by this time, John could actually tell when I was having one -- he said my face got all flushed with each one.

A note now, and an important one the nurses didn't get -- I don't display pain very often or very well. When I was in boarding school I had terrible migraines almost every day for awhile, and was always getting in trouble for "complaining with my face." I had been unaware that I had been showing any sign of these migraines, but apparently I was, and with a lot of effort and remembering that "my face was for the others," I trained myself out of showing anything. I still get the headaches, but only John ever seems to be able to tell when I have one. Being a teacher is another thing that teaches you to act completely professional even when you are having tons of contractions or cramps or morning sickness or what-have-you. John says I have an attitude to pain that is "too British" -- stiff upper lip and all that, no use making a fuss. And I must admit, I don't really see the use of making a fuss. Doesn't make the pain go away to make a lot of noise and complain.

The nurse stuck around for one contraction, as I remember, a fairly light one, and asked me questions like, "How bad is it on a scale of one to ten, with ten being the worst pain of your life?" I said five, but really ... I find this a really hard question to answer. All pain is different, and it's hard to remember exactly what this or that particular pain felt like. I remember that when I had a tooth pulled without anesthesia, I cried for a minute, and I didn't feel like crying this time. So I said five as a safe answer.

The nurse went away for a long time, but I knew they could all keep track of how I was doing with the monitor. Eventually they told us that, since my doctor wasn't at the hospital yet, I'd be checked by a resident. I am not 100% sure what a resident is, but I'm thinking it's a very young doctor. Because when she came, she looked to me like a college student. She was also as nervous as a kid on the first day of a new job, and very apologetic. I'm afraid I took an instant dislike to her, not because she wasn't nice, but just because I didn't feel much confidence in her. My lack of confidence only grew as she fumbled around trying to check me and having lots of trouble doing it. "Sorry, sorry, just one more second, just -- um -- sorry, uh, I can't figure this out ..." Yeah, not a confidence raiser. But eventually she ruled that I was between 4 and 5 centimeters. I'd been 4 at the last appointment. So, I was progressing but not a lot -- it was going to be a judgment call.

So they called back to my doctor, and they talked about me for quite awhile. A long time later Nurse Curly came back and said, "Good news! Even though you haven't made a lot of progress yet, they're going to give you a chance to make some. We're going to take you off the monitors and let you walk around for an hour. If you make more progress, we'll keep you, and if not, we'll send you home."

That sounded great to me. I knew being on my back and on the monitors was slowing things down. So Nurse Curly gave me a second gown to cover up the open back of the first gown (so thoughtful!) and a pair of slipper socks, and off we went. We were confined to the labor and delivery floor, but that was plenty of room, and we paced up and down in high spirits. "I am going to WALK this baby out!" I declared, and I gave the job my level best. While we were walking, the contractions strengthened and spaced themselves out to every three minutes. And they were intense, too -- one lasted a whole trip down the hallway and back. But I wasn't fazed at all by the discomfort -- every contraction was getting us closer to Baby, and that was all I wanted. We talked excitedly about the possibility of holding the baby by morning.

Well, soon it was time to go back, and I got back onto the reclining bed. Nurse Curly did not come back -- instead we were stuck with Nurse Goth for a little bit, who plugged us in without really taking a second look at us. For awhile the contractions weren't showing up on the monitor, but we adjusted it ourselves until we could see them clearly. And they were slowing down more and more the longer I was lying there. So frustrating to watch!

Finally the resident came back and had an even harder time checking me. "It's because the baby's so low," she apologized. "That's good, but it makes it hard for me." I bit my tongue and did not say, "Doesn't this usually happen with women in labor? Surely I am not the only one ever to have a baby that was down pretty low?" But, with a lot of trouble, and a lot of wrenching of my sore hip (which has been getting worse this whole time) she finally declared that I was just a bit over five centimeters.

Normally, they admit you to the hospital at four centimeters. Let me just point this out. (Baby comes out at ten.) But this time they were looking for a change, and we were hoping and hoping that this counted as enough change. The nervous resident got back on the phone with my doctor, and we watched the monitors go up and down some more. A nurse popped in for a moment to ask us where we lived and how long it took us to get to the hospital from there. Then she popped back out and we gave each other a worried look.

Finally a third nurse came back to give us the verdict. "You know, usually when people are in real labor, they're screaming, crying, and all that," she said. "You'll be flushed, sweating, you might even throw up. I mean, sure, there are few women who come in all chipper and really are in labor, but it just doesn't look like you're going that fast here."

I nodded calmly and stared at the monitor that showed my last three contractions, great big mountains on the chart, looking pretty close together. I wondered what the point was of the monitor was if they were just going on my appearance. (And, if my appearance was so important, why they didn't stay in the room to watch me at all.) But I don't generally get angry with strangers -- I mean, I am aware that the grouchy guy who yells at the cashier doesn't generally get a discount just for being a jerk. So I let it go.

"If you were getting an epidural, we'd keep you," continued the nurse. "But since you want to go natural, there's really nothing we can do for you here that you can't do at home. And if you were stuck in bed on the monitors, you'd make less progress and be less comfortable."

That argument did sit well with me. After all, I do not like hospitals and I didn't like seeing everything slow way down every time I lay down on that bed. And we were both starving. So we reluctantly nodded our heads and agreed to go home.

The release instructions they gave us, though, I did find insulting. "Call if have contractions every five minutes, lasting a minute each, for at least an hour," was the instruction printed on the form. What, did you think we were lying last time? Would you like us to call you right now? Grr. So I asked the nurse when they really want us to call, and she said, "When your water breaks, or when your contractions are a lot stronger."

Well, it's the next day and still no baby -- so I guess they were right to send us home. We'd have been in the hospital all this time, which wouldn't have been as nice as my nice cozy bed (where I did get some, but not much, sleep) or the beautiful spring day we went out walking in this morning. But they did say that they thought there wasn't much chance that 48 hours would go by without us coming back in and having that baby. So -- here's hoping? The contractions slowed down significantly overnight (which is why I managed to get any sleep at all) and got weaker. Now they're back stronger and faster again. Still not in the 5-1-1 pattern that makes it worth a call in to the hospital, but perhaps enough to make a bit more progress. After all, I can't stay in labor forever, can I?

Can I?

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Will it be soon?

I would really like to have the baby today.

Why today?

Well, yesterday would have been fine, too. Or the day before. I'm 38 weeks now and no longer have any reason not to have the baby today. I'm just really, really anxious about it.

Now, I guess I'm being kind of silly about it. After all, I am feeling pretty well for 38 weeks -- enormous, sure, but managing to lug myself around without trouble. I'm not one of these people who is "so done being pregnant." I don't mind that part. What I mind, I guess, is the empty crib and all the cute onesies that are not being worn. I want to hold this baby already!

Reason #2 that I'm anxious is that I seem to have been in prelabor for the past week. There have been very few times in the past week that I haven't had contractions every 15 minutes, around the clock. (Only I don't time them at night, and I think either they slow down or I sleep through them.) Some of them are quite uncomfortable and labor-like. On Tuesday they were every 4 minutes for an hour. We were on the verge of calling the doctor when they slowed down again. It's just frustrating! It's like the baby is teasing us or something: "It could be today! Made you look, it's not today. Maybe today! Nope, not today." And when you want to see your baby this much, well, it's frustrating. Not to mention that prelabor contractions aren't exactly fun times. I am referring to them as "intense" and "uncomfortable" because I feel I will better be able to handle them if I don't use the word "painful." But -- they do take my breath away sometimes. This is a lot to go through and not end up with a baby, for a week.

The other night I was close to tears because I haven't had this baby yet. And then I woke up in the middle of the night with a massive contraction and cheered right up. But it still didn't result in a baby.

I'm trying to work on patience, but it's hard. Especially when John is just as impatient as me, if not more so. He doesn't have the cute kicks and rolls to console him -- he has to wait till I push the baby out before he gets to hold it. So he asks me every ten minutes or so, "Had any contractions? How do you feel? Does your back hurt?" Etc. I thought we were excited counting down the days to our wedding, but that really was nothing to this.

In other news, my last day of work was yesterday. It was kind of sad, hugging all the kids and their parents and saying goodbye. Then this morning I woke up at 6:35 (you know, that time that it always used to be impossible for me to wake up at, even with two alarms?) and immediately started having all kinds of ideas for things to do with the kids. I'm going to miss them, even while I don't miss the horrible traffic or the early mornings or the missing John all the time.

I feel a little selfish and entitled getting today off. I know I have a limited number of days off before the baby comes, and baby is sure to be a full-time job. But this morning I drove John to work and drove home thinking, "What shall I do today?" I resolved to do more housework (I'm running out of it, though: all this nesting instinct) and work on a writing project of mine. But here I am blogging and reading the blogs of people with cute babies. I hope I manage this stay-at-home mom thing. So far I'm more like a lazy bum.

However, it is an absolutely glorious day. So it is probably a great day to go outside and get an invigorating, contraction-inducing walk in. Also, I have an obgyn appointment today, so perhaps they can tell me something -- anything -- that will make me feel like I'm making progress?

AND it is Holy Thursday. One of my three favorite days of the year (the others are tomorrow and Easter). The wonderfulness of the Triduum is intensified whenever you're lucky enough to be in a choir, which I happen to be. I'm really looking forward to singing tonight! (Though I can't keep out of my head the thought, "What if I go into labor at church?" Honestly, this child is taking over my brain. I can't think of anything else.)

Say a prayer for a safe & fairly soon delivery of the cutest baby (I am certain) ever born.
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