Monday, January 28, 2013

"Would you do it again?"

In "Do You Like Being Pregnant?"  I speculated that I would be willing to do the pregnancy thing another one, maybe two times, but that I couldn't speak for the actual birthing part, yet.  Before the memory of Abby's birth got washed in the haze of precious newborn nostalgia, I wanted to take an honest look at the experience and ask myself, "Would I do this again?"  I made sure to ask myself this before I even left the hospital, because I know women notoriously somehow "forget" the pain of childbirth, which I can't really imagine.  Six weeks out, and, no, I haven't forgotten.  If you think of that pain scale that medical professionals always ask you to use to rate your pain, I've tried to imagine what a "10" would be.  Getting shot?  Getting dunked in acid?  Maybe having acid poured into your gunshot wound?

I will tell you, happily, labor is not as painful as acid in a gunshot wound, or even just getting shot.  Or, I should say, since I've never been shot, I don't think it is.  But the "crowning" (when baby's head actually makes the exit into the world) was definitely the worst pain I've ever experienced, so I would give it around an eight, I think.  I was one of those women in the movies, whose screaming terrified the poor women in the rest of the maternity wing, just starting their labor.  I probably inspired more women to go for the epidural than not.

I wanted to write this down, because I don't ever want to fool myself into thinking it didn't hurt, or that it was easy.

Despite the fact that labor and delivery were hard, I would do it again.  Even without medication.  I know I could look at it like, "Ok, you did it.  You proved you could do it; you've experienced it - so why not make it a little easier on yourself next time?"  Instead, though, knowing that I can do it makes me want to do it again.  Besides, they say the second birth is usually easier, and I at least have a vague idea of what to expect this time. (Yes, I know, every birth is different).  And, when it was over, it was over.

That's not to say I wouldn't do some things differently.  Next time, I'll know that those cramps aren't gas, and even if they might be Braxton Hicks contractions, when they start, I am going to crawl into bed and sleep until I can't sleep anymore.  Nothing to lose if I'm wrong and it's not active labor, but at least I'll be rested.  Same with eating.  I will have a huge, nutritious meal before I'm too sick and in pain to enjoy it.  I think being exhausted and weak with hunger made my labor much longer and harder than it needed to be, so I would do what I could to avoid that.

I might also pack my hospital bag a little sooner, and make sure the hospital had all of our paperwork before we got there.

Do women actually "forget" the pain of childbirth?  I also know that not all women experience it as painful, not even those who forgo medication.  Am I close enough that I still remember, but the memory will fade with time?  Will I look back on this post and Abby's Birth Story and think, "Oh, it wasn't really that bad?"  From where I sit now, the notion of "forgetting" what childbirth is like sells women short.  I'd like to think more that we look past it, or decide it's worth it, or, that, compared to future trials, it's not really that bad. Moms who are more experienced than me, what do you think?

I already think of the pregnancy that way.  Shortly after we brought Abby home, I waxed nostalgic for the days when Abby was still in my belly, even though that meant I could barely roll over in bed at night or put on my shoes.  But more about that nostalgia, later.

Yay, you read the whole post!  Here's a picture of our family the day we got home from the hospital.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Abby's Birth Story, Part II

I should have included this in the last post - the last picture of me pregnant - there was a terrific kid under that shirt!

I made this for Kevin for Valentine's Day one year.  He's never worn it.
...and here's the rest of the story of how that terrific kid came out.

(By the way, we took that picture as we were packing for the hospital, know it was probably the last time we could!)

I don't know if he would admit it, but I think Kevin had been envisioning the drive to the hospital to be one plucked out of a prime time TV drama - me, panting, moaning and pushing, while he deftly navigates the hills and turns of our "shortcut" to the hospital, running stop signs and dodging pedestrians.  I'm sure he was disappointed.

He had the car warmed up by the time I waddled out, but I wasn't ready to go just yet.  Nope.  I had to vomit three times in the front yard, first.  When the nausea hit, Kevin asked if I wanted to go back in side.  Like I ever would've made it!  In case you lost count, I threw up three times in the last entry, so by this time, all of the noodles and broth I had eaten were pretty much gone.  I finally felt well enough to get in the car, but we brought some bags, just to be safe.  Kevin sped up the driveway, and I had to beg him to slow down.  The turns and bumps were torturous to me - between the nausea and feeling like I could barely sit.  I did, however, muster the strength and wherewithal to post on my Facebook page, "I think this bun is done!"  :)

To Kevin's disappointment, I'm sure, we took the non-bumpy, non-shortcut through the hospital.  With the general pain peaking in contractions every few minutes, it was a slow walk from the parking garage, although I think Kevin wanted to hustle.  I just couldn't.  It was a beautiful morning, though.  A little misty with the sun just breaking through, and crisp and cool.

The worst part of our hospital experience was checking in.  I was weak, lightheaded, and in pain, and the check-in process was incredibly slow.  The receptionist needed a ton of information, and was not in any type of hurry about processing it.  All I could do was prop myself up against a chair and think, "Can't you see that I'm not well?"  Finally, our doula came and could comfort me and help me relax while Kevin finished checking us in.

The next thing I knew, we were in our room.  We were hoping for the room with the birthing tub, but it appeared unavailable.  At that time, I didn't even care.  Then, again, once we got in the room, the nurses needed to ask a battery of questions and get a dozen vital signs.  It seemed like an hour (I don't think nearly that long in real life) had gone by before a midwife showed up and said, "Should we see how far a long you are?"


Seven centimeters.  "You didn't want an epidural, did you?" the midwife asked.  Luckily, no.

Now, here is the thing about the rest of my labor.  It's a little hazy to me.  Not because it's been bathed in the glow of newborn bliss, but because I was truly out of it for most of the labor.  I was exhausted and weak with hunger.  I think the only way I got through the labor was to sort of check out.  Our doula later said that she was amazed at how calm and well-composed I remained. I appreciate the compliment, but I was really barely there.  Time got a little loosey-goosey, too.

I didn't move around much while I was dilating.  I think people kept asking me if I wanted to get up, walk around, but I didn't much.  Kevin remembers that I walked around with him a bit, but for the most part I stayed in bed.  It's funny, when we took our birthing class, the instructor told us to make sure we changed positions every 45 minutes or so, and I remember thinking, "That's crazy!  Who can stay in one position for 45 minutes, anyway?"  Exhausted me in labor, that's who.  They had to prompt me to roll from one side to the other in bed.

I remember being coached to breathe, and breathing.  I remember focusing on a single point on the ceiling.  It was painful. The whole time, never mind the contractions.  It's like the norm was bad period cramps, and the contractions were that times ten.  I whimpered about it hurting so much.  I squeezed Kevin's hand; he put a cold washcloth on my forehead.  I thought about how I completely understood why a woman would choose to get an epidural.

And we weren't even pushing, yet.

That's when things were supposed to get better, right?  The pushing?  I mean, not easier, but I was supposed to feel productive, and the end was supposed to be in sight.

I reached 10 centimeters around 11 AM.  Someone I get up to push; how about trying the toilet?  I felt like sitting was impossible, but the toilet actually felt...I wouldn't say comfortable, but not like I was sitting on a baby's head.  I sat there, feeling pathetic, and said to the doula, "It shouldn't be long now, right?  How long do people usually push?"

"It could be as short as a half hour," she said.

"Ok," I thought, "I can do that."

We tried pushing on the toilet.  The doula coached me to push with calming breaths.  Then, we tried pushing squatting next to the bed, squatting on the bed, on all fours, lunging on the floor.  It was not entirely productive.  People kept asking me what position I wanted to be in, what I wanted to do.  THE ONE THAT GETS THE BABY OUT.  I really had no idea.  I was barely present, much less in touch with what my body wanted me to do, which is probably why I pushed for ABOUT THREE HOURS unsuccessfully.

As much as I was a proponent of not laboring on my back (it's unnatural; you don't have the help of gravity, The Man keeping us down, yadda yadda), in the end, it was all I could do.  The doula finally had me switch tactics - rather than breathing through pushing, I was to hold my breath and give it all I had, three times through each contraction.  She and Kevin held my feet, while I pulled myself up and pushed.

The thing was, after those three hours, my contractions were still 3-4 minutes apart.  I was vaguely aware of the nurse and midwife glancing at each other.  A little before 2PM, the midwife said, "We're going to hook you up to some Pitocin."

My eyes filled with tears.  I had wanted so much to do this on my own, but even as my eyes filled, I knew I couldn't.  I wanted to be consulted, though, not told, so I asked if we could wait until two o'clock to see if things changed on there own.  They didn't, but in the meantime, they explained how small the dose would be, and how it would just make the contractions a little more powerful.  At the end, I was thankful.  I was too weak, too exhausted to keep doing what I was doing.  I think if I hadn't had the Pitocin, my labor would've ended in a C-section.

I got the Pitocin around 2PM.  The contractions increased in strength and frequency, and I thought that the baby must be just about out at least 2 dozen times.  Oh my goodness, there was so much pressure, so much...stretching feeling, and so much pain, how could the baby not be out, yet?  I kept saying that.  I thought for sure I felt a head coming out, but no. At one point, I thought I felt a burning sensation, so I was like, "YAY, CROWNING!" but I apparently had totally underestimated what that particular burning sensation would feel like.

Kevin and the doula continued to encourage me and help me push.  Kevin wiped my head and gave me sips of water, although he needed to be prompted now and then.  He will tell you that I pushed him across the room to get a drink of water; I really just nudged him to get his attention.

Finally, oh finally, more nurses came into the room, bringing tables and medical instruments. That meant they thought it was almost time.  Oh, thank goodness.  I had been saying for about three hours that I didn't know how much longer I could do this, and why wouldn't the baby COME OUT???

I put all the energy I had into pushing, screaming with effort between each breath.  Finally, around 3:20 PM, I felt the burning and the worst pain I've ever experienced, and screamed bloody murder, but AMEN, here was the head!  And they turned to me and told me to stop pushing (so they could make sure the cord wasn't around the baby's neck or anything), and I was like, "I CAN'T!" It's like running at full speed, then just stopping on a dime.  Apparently it all worked out, though, because moments later, a slippery blue baby was laying on my chest.

"Dad, do you want to tell her what it is?" the midwife prompted Kevin.

It was a girl.

I cried.  Out of relief, and out of wonder that this little creature that had grown in my belly for nine months was now laying on me, screaming her head off.  And out of gratitude that the universe had given me the little girl I wanted so much.

The doula took some pictures, Kevin cut the cord, and we latched the baby - Abby - to my breast to feed.

So, to review, and maybe you should've jumped to here if you wanted the quick version:  I began having contractions around 2 or 3PM on Wednesday, December 12th.  They organized themselves in the middle of the night.  We got to the hospital around 8AM on Thursday, December 13th, and I was dilated 7 cm. I got to 10 cm around 11AM, then pushed with varying degrees of success for 4 hours.  Well, I guess successfully, ultimately. I was in labor for about 24 hours, had been awake for about 36 hours, and had vomited up anything I'd eaten since dinner Wednesday night.

So, I might have felt in an "other-worldly" state because of the magic of giving birth, but I'm guessing hunger and exhaustion played a role.  Family came in and passed Abigail around, but I could barely focus on conversation.  I really felt like I was seeing everything through a haze.  But our baby girl was here, and now, we could sleep.

Mommy meeting Abby

Daddy cutting the umbilical cord.
More photos to come!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Sleepy babies aren't all they're cracked up to be!

It amuses me that some people on Facebook are dying of suspense from the birth story!  That's really exciting for me.  But, come on, you know generally how it ends - we have a baby girl, right?  :-)  I do want to finish that story, but first, I feel compelled to share our major challenge over the last month.  I know new parents typically have no time and get little sleep, and probably all have their own unique struggles.  I don't know how much folks talk about them, though, so here is ours - with feeding.

I'm sure many parents do this - before your first baby, your head is full of ideas about how things will be and how babies work.  Before Abby was born, when Kevin's mom told us that Kevin was such a good sleeper that she had to wake him up to eat, my two thoughts were:

1. Great!  I was a good sleeper, too, so maybe that means we'll have a good-sleeping baby!
2. You had to wake the baby up?  Hogwash!  Babies will wake up when they are hungry!

Guess what?  Abby is a sleepy little baby.  We still have to wake her up to eat.  At first, we ALWAYS had to wake her up to eat.  And, she would fall asleep in the middle of eating.  I'd have to mess with her - pinching her, tickling her, wiping her with a damp washcloth - to keep her awake to eat.  And, a few times, nothing we came up with would keep her awake.  It's only been within the last few days that she's expressed hunger without us waking her up of a dead sleep, first.  Guess what else?  Having a sleepy baby isn't as great as it might sound, although I can see where those with fussy babies might disagree.

Being sleepy is just part of the equation, though.  I had a little bit of a challenge with breastfeeding in the hospital, which I chalked up mostly to lack of experience/practice.  Also, she was especially sleepy those first days, and at that point it was okay to let her sleep, so we weren't even breastfeeding that much.  From the get-go, though, the lactation consultants thought that she might have a tongue tie.  A tongue tie is when the frenulum - the narrow piece of skin under you tongue that connects it to the bottom of you mouth - is too short or too tight.  When a baby has a tongue tie, they often can't latch onto the breast properly.

So, for the first few weeks, we were having very long feedings - 45 minutes, an hour - one night, I was switching her from breast to breast for an hour and 45 minutes before it seemed like she was done.  By taking her to the local breastfeeding support group, though, and weighing her before and after a feeding, I learned that for all that time, she wasn't taking in quite an ounce, which wasn't really enough, especially with all the work she was putting into it.  The lactation consultants advised me to pump and supplement her with a syringe after breastfeeding.

Then, we had a few days when we couldn't wake her up to breastfeed or keep her awake to eat for more than a few minutes at time.  It was very stressful. Also?  Either because of her tongue tie or weak suck or something about my breasts, nursing was pretty painful, and I had blistered nipples and everything.  I am thankful for all-purpose nipple ointment.

So, anyway, this all added up to much worrying and very little sleep or time to do anything else - I was nursing something like 12 hours a day.  It was especially rough over the holidays, when Kevin's family, and then my family visited.  I spent half the day tucked in our bedroom feeding Abby.

Things are starting to look up, though.  I started attending another breastfeeding support group at Mercy, and I like it a lot better than the one here in Harford County.  The consultant there was very concerned about Abby's weight gain, so I am pumping and we are primarily bottle-feeding at this point to get her weight and strength up.  The plan is to transition back to primarily breastfeeding.  This pumping and bottle feeding thing is for the birds.  Kiddo eats 10-11 times a day, so that's how many times I need to pump, and after just a week and a half, it's getting kind of old.  But she's putting on weight at a normal rate, now, and while she is still relatively sleepy, she will let us know when she's hungry and will stay awake during feedings.  We also took her to an ear, nose, and throat doctor to have her tongue tie looked at, and got it and an upper lip tie taken care of.  In case you're wondering, the procedure was not a big deal at all.  Just a little laser zap, and she was good to go.

I'm hoping the next few weeks we'll be able to get back to primarily breastfeeding, and that we will be more efficient at it.  I think I'll feel like we have a little more freedom after that.

Birth Story Part II is coming!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Abby's Birth Story, Part I

Unless you're one of the rare individuals who happens upon this blog and doesn't actually know us in real life, you are probably well-aware that Baby - Abby - was born a few weeks ago.  When my last post talked about my days of pregnancy being numbered, I really didn't believe they were as numbered as they were - I was actually in labor at the time, but in complete denial.  More on that in a moment.

I've been wanting to write Abby's birth story for weeks - approximately four weeks, to be exact - but the last four weeks have been...challenging.  And time has escaped me completely.  But more on that in another post.  I can actually type this now because our electric breast pump came on Tuesday, so I can have both hands free at once...for a few minutes, anyway.  I know this is a little long and drawn out, so I understand if you want to skip it.  It's more for me, anyway.

So, on December 12th, the evening I wrote, "...since my pregnant days are numbered..." I should have known I was in labor, but didn't.  Or was in denial, at any rate.  I had been so worried about Baby coming early.  I had so much to do.  So many loose ends at work, so many preparations at home.  Errands to run, gifts to buy, etc, etc.  I wanted to be READY when Baby came.  I spent Wednesday, December 12th, knocking out what I could.  I drove to Catonsville to pick up glasses and contacts, stopped by Trader Joe's for Candy Cane Joe Joe cookies, and took Snuffles to the vet for a pre-baby check up.  When I felt cramping in my abdomen in the Trader Joe's parking lot, I chalked it up to gas.  My tummy had been feeling a litle bloaty and uncomfortable, anyway.  And, I was 38 weeks pregnant.  Abdominal discomfort was the norm.

Throughout the rest of the afternoon, the cramping came and went.  Not in any regular fashion, but I figured out that this wasn't just gas.  However, just the previous week I had had cramping that was continuous for an entire day, and I figured this was the same thing - my body preparing for labor.  I expected that labor contractions would feel like, you know, contractions - like my abdomen contracting - not like menstrual cramps.  So, at dinner that night, I told Kevin, "Just so you know, I'm having some pains that I'll probably mention at our midwife appointment tomorrow.


As I was cleaning up after dinner, though, I noticed that the pains were starting and stopping...not quite regularly, but enough that I decided to record there start and stop times.  They still weren't regular at all.  Sometimes they lasted 20 seconds; sometimes a minute.  Sometimes they were three minutes apart, sometimes 15.  I was sure that, if these were indeed contractions, they were probably just Braxton Hicks.

Around 10 PM, I decided to call our doula.  She confirmed that it indeed sounded like something was going on, but at this point, it could be hours, or days.  Ah, the unpredictability of labor!  She said to wait until they were more organized, then to call her back.

So, writing that blog post, I really believed that these were early signs, but that they did not mean labor was imminent.  I had too much to do on Thursday!  Gifts to put in the mail, shopping to do, nursery decorations to make!  Baby needed to give me a few more days.  Nonetheless, I suggested that now might be a good time to pack our hospital bags and fill out our pre-paperwork.  Like the contractions, we were a little disorganized, and didn't get to bed until almost 1AM.

I couldn't sleep.  At all.  Because the cramps, a.k.a. CONTRACTIONS, were becoming regular.  Although our doula had warned against it, laying in bed, I downloaded an app to time the contractions.  I tried to sleep, but it was like being kicked every 4-6 minutes, so I figured I might as well keep track of these things.  So, I did that until around 3:30 AM, when it seemed like the timing was more frequently at the four-minute frequency than the six.  I woke Kevin up and said, "I think I'd better call the midwives."

The midwife on-call was pretty laissez-faire about things, telling me that I could come in if I wanted, but since it was my first, I could probably labor at home for awhile longer, if I wanted.  I knew I had a better chance of having the kind of labor and delivery I wanted if I hung at home a bit, so I did.

There was no going back to sleep, so I figured I should eat something.  Kevin made me some chicken broth and noodles, which I had with crackers. I actually did a little light cleaning after that - our families would be coming, and I didn't want them to think we lived like slobs in the weeks before the baby came!  Then, I decided to lay down and try to doze, or at least get some kind of rest.  I had been laying on the couch for maybe 10 minutes when I felt what I assumed was the baby move deep in the womb - kind of two wiggles or bounces - and felt a burst of fluid.  Now, they tell you that your water breaking can come in either a trickle or a gush.  I had been paranoid for weeks that my amniotic fluid was trickling and I wasn't noticing, but there was no mistaking this.  I ran - or rather, waddled purposely to the bathroom, and got cleaned up.  I then vomited three times in a row.

I called our doula and midwives again.  The midwife again told me that there was no rush, but I was starting to feel pretty anxious.  Soon, I felt pressure like I had to poop, and thought that this must be it, right?  We'd better get going!

To be continued...