Don’t call us, we’ll call you

June 11, 2012

Hunger

Filed under: Adoption, Motherhood, Personal, Pregnancy — Tags: , , , — llcall @ 3:55 pm

I wrote this last Monday, but promptly forgot about it amidst the busy week.

Yesterday I held a just about two-month-old baby during Relief Society. I could hardly take my eyes off her, observing/remembering all the baby things babies do that Miss Addison most decidedly does not do. I forgot how charmed  I am by the little things: watching them gently suck pacifiers (something Addison never actually did — maybe that’s why I don’t remember how cute it is); seeing their lips break into momentary smiles; listening to them grunt, trying to get comfortable (or poop). My right arm felt dead afterward, but it was worth it.

Despite how much I enjoyed it, I realized this surprising fact: I’m not really baby hungry anymore. I still like them, I still want one, but there’s no ache there now. There’s a few newborns at church and I remember seeing the first one come to church in March, at just a few weeks old. His mom picked him up to shush him and I started crying. I just wanted to shush a baby so badly. And not someone else’s where I wasn’t quite sure how he wanted to be held, whether he wanted my shoulder or the crook of my arm. I wanted to shush a baby and know that I was the very best shush-er for that little one. But unless I’m mistaken, I think that was the last time I cried for a baby. And that aching hunger has been replaced by something calm and peaceful: my time will come again. Someday.

I’m surprised at how quickly and gently that ache went away. I thought it would hang on me, maybe drive me back into therapy (not that we could afford that right now). I credit it to God and Addison. She doesn’t let me hug her often or long, but one-and-a-half seconds turns out to be just enough to remind me that I have already been given an incredible gift. (And shenanigans like Saturday’s remind me that it won’t be the worst thing for Addison to be older when a sibling comes along, lest I have another child to manage while fishing her out of fountains.)

But despite the baby hunger dissipating, I still feel some sorrow about pregnancy and labor and delivery. This just doesn’t compute for Neal. In his mind, my pregnancy was 9 months of absolute hell and complete incapacitation. But when I protest with all the things I was able to do, I can only come up with finishing my stats class and going to church.  Being out of bed 7 hours a week for 7 months (fewer after the appendectomy) is not exactly a ringing endorsement for pregnancy. And don’t even get Neal started on the terror of labor.

I remember it all differently, of course. Not that it seems rosy, but it seems amazing, almost magical and so incredibly worthwhile. I still can’t believe that I, of the strange and never-ending health problems from infancy (when I was a baby my parents came into my room once to find me bleeding out my eyes) to now, carried and delivered a girl so robustly healthy that she is forced to run everywhere and sees the doctor only once per year! That is a miracle worth suffering for.

Even while I can think of many advantages to not having another pregnancy, when my mind starts to wander, I routinely picture myself with a big, round belly again. I don’t miss the rash, but I sure do miss that belly (and the little girl punching me from inside it). And when I think about never being part of another labor/delivery, I feel sad. I still read lots of birth stories, but it’s not the same as being there with a laboring women, or myself, watching the intense highs and lows unfold.

Is it weird that I don’t even think about having another biological child anymore, but I do still dream of being pregnant and (most of) what goes along with it?

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May 9, 2012

Flashback: My thoughts on April 2

This morning I had a conversation with two of my good friends, a conversation about new babies and first children and postpartum depression. And then quite by accident, I stumbled on this post that I never published. I wrote it on 2 April 2010 (hence the very creative title I picked) when Addison was just about 6 weeks old. I’m not exactly sure why I never published it but I suspect that there was some element of not being completely ready to discuss how I was feeling. I know I did blog about some of my experiences with PPD, but I also know there were some things that I wanted to say but I just could not bring myself to do it. Revisiting those times through conversation with a few friends over the last several months has been surprisingly healing. I’ve told them things without fear or shame (and often with laughter) that I remember feeling so horrible about at the time. I just want to hug them and tell them that we’re good people and good mothers and in the whole scheme of our lives these difficult feelings will be so fleeting and inconsequential and no reflection on whom we really are and what we are capable of. And while I’m telling them all that, I want to tell myself too.

For a little over a week now, Addison has been smiling directly at us, in response to us.  I think this actually started much earlier, but Neal says I was deceived by motherly-wishful thinking (the more I think about it, the more I believe that “motherly-wishful thinking” may be a sort of mental condition — anyone know if it’s in the DSM?).

This new turn of events has made getting her in the morning my favorite part of the day.  She will be rooting around, flailing her arms, making little frustrated squeaks, still partially asleep.  As I walk in the room and start speaking, she calms down a bit and starts to tentatively open her eyes.  By the time I’m in front of her swing looking at her, she has her eyes open and breaks into a smile.  She doesn’t stare at me for long because she still wants to make it clear that she is hungry, but she is very sweet and smiley in the first few moments of her day.

I have yet to get a picture of her wide eyed and smiling, simply because it is so adorable, I can’t pull myself away long enough to get the camera.

***

Speaking of beautiful moments, I used to have so many sacred thoughts and feelings about this baby girl while I was pregnant.  Impressions about her character and personality, about our pre-existing relationship, and my role as her mother.  So it’s been interesting that since she was born those have been fewer and farther between.  There is something so in-the-moment about being with a child.  When they need something, they need it now.  When they are unhappy, they want to be soothed now.  It doesn’t leave me with the kind of contemplative time to which I am so accustomed from years of bedrest and ill health.

Couple this lack of time with exhaustion and add in more mixed feelings than I could have foreseen, and this has been an interesting experiment thus far.  A lot of people talked to me about how hard the first while would be and about postpartum depression and baby blues, but I don’t remember people talking about the mixed feelings.  How you would never go back to life before her, but you will also grieve for the things that you must leave behind.

Why can we not acknowledge that we are losing things too?  Things we would want to grieve.

“Something’s lost but something’s gained in living every day.” [From this Joni Mitchell song I love.]

April 24, 2012

A new story of my life, part II

Click here for part I.

I usually don’t write about something until I’ve mentally determined its structure, figured out some semblance of a beginning, middle, and end.  But this new story is so full of different threads, and so far from its end, that I am still only guessing at what its “parts” might be.  But I think the next part is about my miscarriage in December 2008.

When I think about it now, I get a good chuckle from the way I suddenly became a computer-game-playing, Reality-Steve-reading Bachelor junkie.  But at the same time, I cannot downplay the fact that I was in a pretty deep depression for many months.  I had wanted to start trying for a baby as soon as we got married — my “biological clock,” which only started gently ticking around 25, was clanging by 27 — but I was still in the middle of a string of neck surgeries, and the two situations were mutually exclusive.  I think I always had a sense that I was in a race against time . . . my health was probably not going to get better with age, so I needed to get some babies here as soon as possible.  I was hoping for at least 3, maybe 4.  I think the thing that surprised me the most when I did miscarry was how fiercely I was grieving for that baby, the one that I had never actually seen or held or heard.  It wasn’t about setting my timetable back, or running out of time, or wondering if I was capable of having a healthy pregnancy.  I just wanted my baby that I already felt this undeniable connection to.

Oh, that longing was fierce and persistent — even during my pregnancy with Addison.  How I finally moved past that feeling is really just a side-note to this broader story I’m trying to tell, but since I’ve never recorded it, this seems as good a time as any.  The turning point for me came in October 2009 when I was discussing labor and delivery techniques with my friend Kjell.  She said, kind of off-handedly with no particular gravity, “Do you think this baby is the same one you miscarried?”  Perhaps I said maybe or I don’t know or I’m not sure.  Of course, the thought had occurred to me as I contemplated many questions related to perinatal loss.  But for some reason that day in early October, the suggestion struck me in a different way.  Neal had felt that our first baby was a girl.  And we had just found out definitively that we were now expecting a girl, and so I just let that possibility sit with me.  Maybe this new baby girl is the same spirit, coming to a body that can sustain her life in a way the first one could not.  Now, I should make it clear that I didn’t know if that was the case, and I still don’t; but there was enough comfort there that I was finally able to let go of that baby I had tried so hard to hold on to.  So thanks for that, Kjell (I don’t think I’ve ever told you that).

But let’s back up a few months, back to the central story.  After six months of heavy grieving and depression, I was finally ready to try for another baby.  It didn’t take too long to get pregnant, but things weren’t looking too good from the start.  By eight weeks along, I had already been to urgent care and a doctor and my midwife, trying to figure out if the problems I was having were pregnancy-related or just coincidental new health problems.  Just before we took off on our blockbuster summer vacation in July, our midwife told us to prepare for the worst.  We mostly tried to relax and have fun on our trip, but we also made the decision that if this pregnancy didn’t take, we would shift our focus to adoption.  The midwife had told us that she thought I was capable of delivering a healthy child, but that it might take three or four miscarriages to get there.  And when you’re still in the middle of grieving a miscarriage that happened eight months before, you just know you can’t do that three more times.

Needless to say, our adoption talk subsided when I didn’t miscarry and Addison turned out to be a miraculous fighter.  We had our hands full trying to manage the pregnancy, and then a newborn, and then postpartum depression — adoption was no longer on the radar.  I can hardly pin down when the shift in our discourse came about, but eventually we were questioning whether adoption would ever be a good idea for us.  The new conventional wisdom was this: if I had such a difficult time accepting the loss of a baby that had only barely been present, how would I handle losing a baby or child I had held and rocked and soothed?  (Something that does not always happen in adoption, but is common enough that it must be considered.)  We would talk over different types of adoption (I had a decent amount of foundational knowledge from my work at CORE and the fact that I have four adopted cousins) and weigh the possibilities, but it was starting to sink in how emotionally difficult that path might be, and whether I was capable of dealing with it.  Combine that questioning and self-doubt with my still-clanging biological clock, and I became convinced that we should shoot for another biological child.  I felt that it could work out, that the pregnancy wasn’t as bad as Neal remembered, that maybe we could ask for another little miracle and get it.  In short, I bargained.

It’s actually interesting for me to go back and read my bargaining and acceptance posts because I can see just how dichotomous my thinking was only three short months ago: have another biological child or have only one child.  The idea that I wasn’t cut out for adoption, that I couldn’t endure its risks with strength or sanity had become so firmly rooted.  Which is why it was nothing short of miraculous when just a week later, I had this little glimpse of the future and I knew that we would be adoptive parents.

I will have to get stronger before that time comes.  Learn a lot more about the process.  Assess our parental capabilities.  Create an income stream.  Shed some emotional baggage.  Start getting out of bed again (not depressed, just still in a tough place health-wise).  But there’s a child or two coming our way (maybe already born) — I’m certain of it.

March 19, 2012

Recent and random

I think I’m still in the “just can’t face it” funk.  Still overwhelmingly fatigued, still fighting some sinus issues, still totally unmotivated to do anything.  I managed to prepare and teach my Relief Society lesson for yesterday, but beyond that, I have done nothing productive since I returned from my trip.  And by nothing, I mean, I have not even unpacked my bags in the past eight days.  Oy, it’s a mess around here!

It’s really disappointing to me — I stayed so healthy on my trip, despite interacting with mildly-sick people right and left, that I was feeling really optimistic about just-me-and-Addison travel.  But if I lose a couple of weeks on the end of every trip, is it really worth it?  Not that I’m giving up altogether, but it’s been a little disheartening.

***

Despite that, I’ve read and watched some interesting things lately.  Here are a few in no particular order:

This TED talk by Jonathan Haidt was quite interesting (though a bit repetitive), going in some entirely different directions than I was expecting.  But for some strange reason, I was particularly captivated by the way he used his hands and how elegant his wedding ring looked.  It made me think I should get Neal a wedding ring, you think?

***

A couple of my friends linked to this lovely letter John Steinbeck sent to his son.  I thought about excerpting part, but there were just so many little gems that I couldn’t choose.  Just go read it!  It reminded me of the first time I fell in love with Steinbeck’s writing, reading the truly stunning East of Eden.

***

Speaking of fiction, this article on the neuroscience of reading fiction really caught my attention.  Even though I am mostly a nonfiction reader and have been since childhood, I really believe in the power of novels and the like.  Sometimes I’ve felt that a fictional account captures a truth about humanity in a more perfect way than any nonfiction version could.  So I was not surprised to read that some studies find that “individuals who frequently read fiction seem to be better able to understand other people, empathize with them and see the world from their perspective.”

***

This Salon article from an ex-con/college professor was obviously right up my alley.  In the opening paragraphs, she references people who were locked up for minor offenses (like possession of marijuana) and had their lives forever altered by incarceration.  This is all too familiar because it is the tragic story of one of the first men I met in D.C. Jail.  I’m going to tell you Oliver’s story some day soon (I’ve started writing it many times) but it’s taking me time since he is still the person I have cried for most in my life.

***

It turns out if I do only have one biological child (which is looking likely), I had her at exactly the right age!  Apparently, 30 is the statistically ideal age for having a child that is “less frail, less obese, taller, and [has] better self-reported health later on in life.”  (I’m not sure what happened with the height, but the healthy-as-a-horse part definitely bears out so far.)

Thanks to Rachel and her getting-a-PhD-in-demography husband Stephen for the info!

January 8, 2012

What I’ve been reading lately . . .

Besides Getting Things Done.

CBS doesn’t know Ron Paul is running for president?

My good friend and former roommate Jenn Morrill writes about politics and Ron Paul for the Examiner.  If you think I follow politics closely, meet Jenn, who makes me look like a casual observer at best.  Even though we don’t share all the same political views, I love reading her articles because her passion for and dedication to her values are so evident.  Her articles have also sensitized me to issues I haven’t always recognized.  For example, Ron Paul and the media.  Whenever supporters of a particular candidate start to talk about unfair media treatment, I am a bit skeptical — I mean, every ardent supporter thinks their candidate is getting the short end of the stick, right?  But over the last several weeks, I have begun to think that Ron Paul supporters are right.  Following the Iowa caucus this week I read two articles in major media outlets that failed to mention Ron Paul at all.  Seriously?  How does that happen when he was only about three percentage points below the first place finisher?

2011 Lesson #2: Don’t Carpe Diem

One of Neal’s friends (only on facebook, of course, in real life I am his only friend) posted this and he sent it to me, and I like it.  I think most of it represents the way I experience motherhood.  As my parents so often remind me, for most of my life I swore I would never have kids, only monkeys (that I would obviously dress in diapers).  And I can see why I felt that way.  Because parenting is tough.  And if a certain biological clock hadn’t started ticking in a crazy-loud, undeniable way, I could see myself still doing other good in the world sans Addison.  Truthfully,  many days I want to do those other things I used to do in the world because they were far less tiring and never-ending.  Sure, I often worked 12-hour days at various non-profit organizations, but I got to SIT all. day. long.  And when I opened a snack, no little hands took it away.  Or deleted the text I was writing.  So luxurious.

The point is, I don’t hate when people say, “Enjoy every minute.”  Or tell me that they enjoy every minute of parenthood.  Probably because I think it’s not really true (but also because, hey, good for them if they do!).  But I’m comfortable with the fact that it’s not like that for me.  I don’t call them “Kairos moments,” but that’s what I look forward to — moments when I’m a little bit awestruck that I get to know and love Addison every day.  Some days I think of her as my baby, but more often now I think that she is just an incredible human being, already so full of good intentions (but still needing a little guidance about the social unacceptability of nose-picking).  I am grateful that I get to spend these days the way I do, but I’m not giddy about it from moment to moment.  It’s just too exhausting to make me giddy.

Erin Caroline’s Birth Story

I love birth stories.  I’ll never have a birth story like this, but I might if life always worked out just exactly how we would like (although I’d still want my doula there; she was so fantastic!).

December 3, 2010

Two legacies of pregnancy

Filed under: Personal, Pregnancy — Tags: , , — llcall @ 7:54 am

(Besides the baby, of course.)

1. I never want to go back to my pre-pregnancy jeans.  It turns out, I love maternity pants!  (Naturally, Neal is thrilled about this.)

2. Every time I have an itch, no matter how minor, something in the back of my mind says, “Crap!  You better not be pregnant!”

I confess I saw the maternity pants thing coming from a mile away, but I don’t think anyone assumes that itching is going to be their key pregnancy symptom (if you don’t know the back story to this and want to, you can basically catch up with these three posts).

 

June 14, 2010

My labor project

Filed under: Personal, Pregnancy — Tags: , , , — llcall @ 6:00 pm

I mentioned before that one of the strategies from Birthing from Within that I really loved was the labor project.  The idea is to plan a project to pass the time during early labor so that you do not obsess over every contraction.  While most of the examples revolved around cooking (like making a birthday cake for your new baby, which sounded awesome until I realized that they meant I would be doing the baking), I knew immediately that I would use this as an opportunity to do some sewing.  Obviously, I went with practical over fun, but it was still enjoyable.

Washable nursing pads

Cloth diapers

(the reason I was so desperate for ball-point needles)

I also started to hem Neal’s new pants, but it turns out that 9-months pregnant + contractions + getting on the floor to measure do not mix!

April 29, 2010

Final reflections on my birth experience

And by final, I mean constantly evolving . . .

  • Neal was INCREDIBLE.  A couple weeks later, he told me how even after going through childbirth once, he doesn’t think it would be any less nerve-wracking the second time; that it freaked him out; that it was so hard to see me in more pain than he had ever, ever seen before; that if we ever do this again, part of him wishes that I would just choose to get an epidural as soon as possible so that we could just relax together, watch movies while we wait; that he ultimately felt a little bit guilty that he kept encouraging me and didn’t tell me to get an epidural sooner, as if he prolonged my pain . . . and a million other complex reactions.  But, you know, that day and night, he was so present for me that I honestly didn’t even feel like he was nervous.  I guess it is a true testament to how much he rose above his own fears and emotions because I kind of didn’t realize he had any in the moment.  He never showed it.
  • Although Neal never actually read one of the scripts that we had practiced during labor, and in fact, it seemed at the time like it would have been an incredibly odd thing to do, they helped us enormously.  We had practiced so much that literally when Neal or Melissa or Krisell told me to relax, it triggered a chain reaction where I would go through my face, shoulders, neck, arms, legs, and just relax everything.  Melissa said that it was obvious to her from the first few minutes that we had practiced a lot because of how quickly I could respond to the suggestion to relax.  Who knew relaxing could be such a learned behavior?  I should have started learning it years ago!
  • This is one of my most vivid memories of the whole experience: when the anesthesiologist came in to give me that epidural, they made Melissa and Krisell sit down on the couch.  Only Neal could stay with me to help me get through the contractions.  I think everyone was a little nervous about what would happen because I was not really able to control my body through the aforementioned pushing/spasms.  So Neal had the job of trying to get me to stay completely still while the doctor inserted the needle.  Neal was standing right in front of me, his face just inches away from mine.  He kept telling me to look at his eyes.  Every time I looked away or closed my eyes, he would tell me to open them and keep staring into his eyes.  Out of the corner of my eye I could still see Melissa and Krisell, and I could hear Melissa quietly telling Krisell to watch what a great job Neal was doing, how he was keeping me focused so that I would stay still.  I can’t imagine anyone being a better birth coach than my Neal was.
  • I think there are two things that I’m most proud of about how I handled things: first, I never (not once) got short or snappy with Neal.  This was one of my fears because although Neal had read all the books reminding him not to take comments from a laboring woman personally, there is literally nothing that shuts Neal down faster than a harsh tone or phrase.  He just kind of withdraws when addressed in that way.  Second, I stayed focused and worked hard the whole time.  I think in the end I just felt really prepared because of the process that we went through.  When Heather dropped the c-section possibility, I was not really phased even though that had initially been one of my biggest fears.  I think we were as ready as we could be for any direction that things could take.
  • In case anyone is in doubt, I am very pro-doula!  We paid $440 for childbirth classes and the labor/delivery with Melissa ($350-400 is typical for a doula in this area), and feel like it was worth. every. penny.  I remember at one point when Heather was recommending an intervention that I did not want, I turned to Melissa and asked, “Remind me why we didn’t want to do that . . .”  There was just no way that I could keep everything in my head at a time like that; thank goodness Melissa could talk us through each decision point.  Not only was she great during the actual process, she called to check up on me multiple times postpartum to make sure my depression was under control, I was feeling okay about the delivery, breastfeeding was established, etc.  It was wonderful to have such an understanding and experienced person available to me to talk through things before, during, and after such a huge event.
  • Right after I received the epidural, Melissa said something really funny.  She said, “You know, you went through every part of labor unmedicated: active, transition, pushing, and everything else.  It just doesn’t work as well when you do it out of order.”  I guess I’m just really glad that even after some of the most challenging hours of my life, my sense of humor was in tact and there was a fairly light mood in the room.
  • In one of our follow-up phone calls, Melissa told me that she wouldn’t even really count it as me having an epidural.  She said that no one has an epidural for like one hour and then delivers their baby.  And from the way I was pushing it was clear that I was feeling things down there.  The great thing is that I honestly don’t care either way.  Even though the to-epidural-or-not-to-epidural is one of the key distinguishing factors between so-called natural childbirth or not, I knew that it wasn’t just all about that.  My preparation process was about so much more than that: wanting to be well-informed, to make good decisions, to stay calm, to stay kind.  Really, to try and exert some sense of control over a pregnancy that always seemed to be spinning just outside my control.  In the end, having the epidural was one of those good decisions.  And although it did cross my mind how much pain I went through when I could have had an epidural sooner (!), I know I would make the same choices again because some of the additional risks of the epidural were diminished by the brevity of it.
  • On my midwife Heather: I honestly don’t hold ill feelings toward her.  In fact, we had a nice chat a few days after the birth when I went in because of my bladder and uterine infections.  That encounter really underscored for me that 1) she must have been very tired during my delivery because her bedside manner was much better at the office visit and 2) she is a perfectly nice person with a very different birthing philosophy than I have.  Through a couple of different channels, I have since found out that she went to midwifery school about 10 years ago, but then spent her whole career working with obstetricians.  From the perspective of one midwife that went to school with her, she had a strong desire to be accepted within the OBGYN community and consequently, changed her mind about a lot of common elements of midwifery practice.  In particular, she gets annoyed by “birth plans,” especially birth plans like mine, no doubt.  We also learned that the other midwives at the clinic would have allowed me to get in the tub or shower, so she wasn’t being completely honest about the back-up doctor forbidding it.  There are a few other things, but in the end, it all just underscores for me the importance of knowing everyone at a particular clinic or practice that could possibly deliver your baby.  I’m just a little sorry that Sarah (who I loved) was replaced with her just a few weeks before my delivery.
  • I really wish I had a picture of the way Neal transformed our living room into my own personal laboring room (but I was a little busy at the time ;)).  It was so cute.  Picture a shower curtain spread out on the floor.  Towels on top of that.  Then the birthing ball.  Another towel draped over the top.  Nearby, the crockpot with warm washcloths.  A couple of water bottles within arms reach of the ball.  Our birthing materials on the coffee table.  He tried to think of everything for my comfort (and the cleanliness of the carpet :)).  I’ll always remember that.
  • Probably the best pregnancy/delivery/baby decision we made was having Neal take a very light load during Winter semester.  This gave us a lot of extra time together to prepare and practice for the labor, as well as lots of help for me afterward.  We have a comparatively easy baby (I am well aware of this!) and I feel like I barely survived having a newborn.  I have no idea where I would be if I didn’t have a true partner, in things big and small, in Neal.

And also, don’t you just love rainbow colors?!

April 21, 2010

My birth story . . . finally

Since I’m going to write a ridiculously detailed account for my own benefit, I’m going to give the Cliff’s notes version up front for those with less interest in all the nitty-gritty details: I had a great birth experience!  A number of things didn’t go as planned, there were a few hours of pain to exceed all pain I have ever EVER experienced, but I felt strong and confident most of the time.  When I think back on it, I believe it will always be a cherished memory for me: how hard I worked to get this baby here, how supportive Neal and my doulas were, how we made good, clear-headed decisions in the moment even when they were different than our “ideal” plans.

So when I last wrote about my labor on Monday the 15th, it was about 12:30 pm and contractions were about 6 minutes apart after coming consistently and painfully since about 3:30 am.  I was still worried then that this might not be the real thing since one of my friends had been having this type of experience for more than a week.  But it wasn’t too long before we knew that this was it.  Soon we were really busting out the coping techniques.  Some ended up seeming worse than irrelevant in the moment; for example, we both laughed at the Non-Focused Awareness technique we had practiced because in the moment it seemed really silly for Neal to read from a script.  But many were genuinely helpful:

  • Touch relaxation (from Birthing from Within) — Neal would stroke my lower back in time with my breathing to help me get through the contraction.  The sensation drew my attention away from the contraction’s pain as well as helping me keep the rhythm of my breathing.
  • Counterpressure on my back — this was huge because I was having so much back pain even between contractions.
  • TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation) unit — not everyone has access to one of these but because I’ve had so much physical therapy for my back problems, I have a home unit.  It didn’t do all that much for pain relief during the contractions, but it made the back pain far more bearable in between contractions.
  • Birthing ball (aka. exercise ball) — swaying helped me keep a rhythm going and just sitting on something that had some give to it was far more comfortable than the couch or standing.
  • Warm compresses — my friend Hilary recommended getting a crockpot going with warm, wet washcloths.  This suggestion = AWESOME!  Sometimes Neal would put them on my stomach, sometimes on my back in conjunction with the counterpressure.

Neal was at my side continually from mid-day and although at times we considered calling my doula Melissa (we talked through a strategy with her about 6:00 am, but were trying to labor without her as long as we could), I felt that we were coping pretty well with just the two of us.  By about 2 or 3 in the afternoon, my appetite was gone but luckily I had done some carbo-loading in the morning to give me the energy to get through.

Around 4:30 with the contractions coming about every 5 minutes, we decided to go for a walk around the neighborhood to try to kick things up a notch.  Um, wow, walking REALLY kicked things up a notch!  The contractions moved to every 1 to 3 minutes and were getting crazy intense.  Luckily, I had Neal there to lean on and encourage me with statements like this: “If walking in labor were an Olympic event [remember this was during the Vancouver Olympics], you would definitely make it to the second round.  You probably wouldn’t medal or anything, but the second round . . . that’s really good because there are some first-class athletes out there.”

When we got done with our walk, the contractions stayed at about every 3 minutes and their intensity didn’t decrease much.  I was getting waaaay uncomfortable.  I kept moving positions constantly because I couldn’t figure out whether I wanted to sit or stand or lay down.  We gave Melissa another call about 6:30 and she was genuinely shocked to hear that I had been laboring all day.  It turns out because I hadn’t called her again after the 6:00 am call, she thought that the contractions had died down again, as they had been doing all weekend.  I still wasn’t sure if I wanted her to come right then — I think because it was my first time, I was really paranoid about calling my doula in too early, or going to the hospital too early, or even making Neal stop doing his homework too early.  But we agreed that Melissa would get dressed and ready to come over and wait for our next call.

About 30 minutes later (7:00ish for those keeping track), I was sure we needed her to come.  The contractions were still every 2-3 minutes and intense, but now I also had the shakes — bad.  I alternately felt cold and hot.  Melissa had just gotten home from her other job and said she would get ready and come as soon as possible, as well as call in the apprentice doula.  We talked through whether we should just meet at the hospital, but I was still worried about going in too early, so we agreed to labor at home for a while longer [I didn’t mention this to Neal because he was getting nervous and probably would have thought I was ridiculous, but I was kind of hoping to labor at home long enough to see the Olympic pairs figure skating competition.  In hindsight, I also think I’m ridiculous, but I was really rooting for that Chinese couple!]

But just 20 minutes later, things were getting even more intense and when we called Melissa back, she suggested that we meet at the hospital because based on how I sounded, she thought that I was progressing quickly.  Neal got some chicken broth ready and bundled me in the car.  We got to the hospital about 8:00 pm, and thankfully, the contractions stayed strong and steady at about every 2-3 minutes [I was worried that my discomfort with hospitals would make me tense up and undercut my body’s natural process, which was obviously humming along].

When they checked me in the triage room, they determined that yes, this was the real thing and I was fully effaced and 5 centimeters dilated.  They asked if I wanted a wheelchair to get to my permanent room, but I was really proud of myself that I was still feeling pretty strong and walked with the support of Melissa and Neal.  Around this time, I also met my apprentice doula Krisell (I’m not sure if this is how her name is spelled since I never saw it in print) for the first time.  Mine was the first labor she was attending, but she was an absolute natural.  Melissa and Krisell would push against my knees to provide counterpressure during the contractions, gently massage my hands and feet in between contractions, and give soft words of encouragement (all the better because of Krisell’s awesome South African accent).  Before labor, we had talked through what I thought my support preferences would be, i.e. I like touch and massage and probably wasn’t seeking quite as much verbal support, particularly not really loud cheerleading.  I was prepared for being totally wrong about what would actually help in the moment, but my preferences stayed pretty consistent.  I loved the calmness that both Melissa and Krisell exuded.

Melissa’s mellow nature was what Neal and I were first struck by when we met, and one of the key reasons we chose her over other doulas we interviewed.  And boy, were we glad because we very quickly encountered some frustrations when Heather, the midwife on call (that I had this unpleasant first meeting with), arrived.  Jana, my regular midwife, had foreseen that Heather and I wouldn’t get along well too well (not that I’m a difficult person, but you will see shortly that Heather and I were not a good fit for birthing) and told me that we could call her for the delivery.  But as fate would have it, she was out of town during my delivery.

So more or less, this is what happened when Heather arrived: the nurse had given her a copy of my birth plan and she was holding it, when she came to explain that 1) I could not get in the shower or take a bath, 2) I had to have continuous fetal monitoring, 3) she wanted me to get an I.V, and 4) she pretty much wanted me to stay in bed.  If anyone is in doubt about my birth plan, this was pretty much the opposite of everything I had discussed and planned for with Jana and Sarah (the other midwives I saw).  What’s more Heather told me that these were not her policies, but the requirement of the new back-up physician, and if I didn’t agree, she would have to transfer me to his care immediately and he would treat me as a high-risk delivery with a lot of interventions that come with that.

Let me tell you, I could go on for a long time about how silly this scenario was, especially considering all that I have learned about Heather and her methods of practice since then.  What it boils down to is this: she does not really advocate a collaborative, midwifery model of care.  Which makes one wonder why she decided to, you know, work at a MIDWIFE clinic.  But whatever.

The really miraculous thing, and probably one of the things that I feel most proud of, is that, with the amazing help of Neal and Melissa (and probably God, I’m sure he was involved too), I didn’t get angry or combative or even very disappointed.  In between the still-frequent contractions, I asked legitimate questions, like “Why do you have baths and showers if you won’t let people use them?” and “Can I use the telemetry machine so that I can be fetal-monitored while moving freely?”  Melissa warned us that some OBs can be punitive with patients they don’t agree with, so she felt that we were still better off with Heather.  Ultimately, we agreed.

I had come prepared to compromise on the I.V.; in fact, I had been thinking that it would be best for me to get that upfront since I have really (REALLY) difficult veins.  But refusing one in my birth plan was a strategic move that I hoped would make them feel like I was compromising (and/or they were winning) when I consented to a heplock.  It seemed to work.  They also agreed to the telemetry machine so I could still walk around and use a birthing ball.  The nurse also told me that whenever I needed to use the bathroom, I could unhook from the monitor, so we decided that we might spend some time in the bathroom.

They brought in the birthing ball and I got positioned on it, leaning back against Neal who was sitting behind me.  Initially, Melissa and Krisell would press against my knees during the contractions.  But as they kept intensifying, Melissa started to do counting breathing, holding up a different number of fingers with each contraction and having me breath that many times through the contraction.  Not that things hadn’t been hard before, but it was getting tough and I was also starting into some double-peaking contractions, which were pretty ridiculous.  Heather wasn’t in the room with me all that much, but did come in periodically because she was annoyed that I was moving and the monitor would stop picking up our heartbeats.

It was somewhere around 9:30 pm that she whirled in and said that the baby’s heart rate had plummeted to 90 beats per minute and that she needed to break my water and insert an electrode into baby’s scalp immediately.  Well, right then Neal was watching the fetal monitor and it was registering a really steady 140, and my whole team (Heather was not really part of my team, although Jana would have been) was like, she’s full of crap.  Neal and I know without a doubt that Addison was never in distress during the delivery.  It’s just one of those things that we know.  It was completely obvious to us that Heather was just annoyed that I kept moving and the monitor was switching back and forth between the baby’s heart rate and my heart rate. [Interestingly, too, they never brought in the telemetry monitor, despite a couple of requests and after telling us they would.  Just one of the things that further confirmed that Heather’s goal was for me to get in bed and stay in bed.]  Of course, Heather assured us that the baby wouldn’t feel something being inserted into her scalp (because babies magically can’t feel anything until they’re born — okay, see, I need to not be retroactively sarcastic since I did such a good job of not being annoyed or sarcastic during the actual labor :)).  It turned out my water had already broken (a slow leak, something I had suspected but wasn’t sure about), so it didn’t drastically alter the labor’s rhythm.  Still it seemed to appease Heather, and she didn’t come in to bug me about the fetal monitoring anymore.

However, it was not too much later, about 10:00 pm, that she came in to give me the song-and-dance about how I was not progressing quickly enough.  In two hours at the hospital, I had progressed another centimeter to 6.  Melissa was genuinely shocked that Heather would come in and disrupt my rhythm and try to undercut my confidence when it was clear I was making progress.  At this point, Heather basically wanted me to get an epidural and a gentle push from our synthetic-friend Pitocin (now I think Pitocin can be a great and helpful thing, but in my case, we all felt that her encouragement had a lot more to do with her timetable than with my labor’s progression).  Melissa assured me that from her observations I was doing well and progressing quickly — I really admire the fine line she walked through the whole labor, not directly defying Heather, but quietly reminding me that I should trust how I was feeling rather than being unduly influenced by Heather’s perceptions.  I told Heather I just wanted to keep laboring as is, and would reevaluate in another hour.

Sure enough, just about 30 or 40 minutes later, the nurse checked me again and said I was at a 7.  This was gratifying, but at the same time, I was starting to feel more than a little bit of agony — and as Neal assured me later, probably everyone in the birthing wing could tell by the way I was expressing myself.  Funny, I don’t remember being very loud :).  It’s a bit of a blur for both Neal and I about how they figured this out, or perhaps why they only figured it out at this point rather than earlier, but right about this time they said that baby girl was posterior and not turning.  It seemed like an “A-ha” moment for everyone else that explained why my pain and contractions were so intense but we weren’t quite as far along as they would expect.  I remember someone, can’t say who, asked me why I didn’t tell them I was having “back labor” this whole time.  Well, probably because it was my first labor.  Duh.

I’m trying to figure out how to articulate the sensation that I started experiencing around this time.  Throughout the day and night, I kept feeling like I needed to go to the bathroom.  But nothing really happened on my many trips to the toilet.  But always I felt this intense need to have a bowel movement.  Well, in pretty short order, with each contraction, my whole body started to push, as if I was going to the bathroom (I wasn’t) and throwing up at the exact same moment.  After a few of these full-body spasms, I knew I had to get off the birthing ball, so Neal and the doulas helped me into bed.  I lied down [who can explain to me the proper lie-lay usage? it’s one of my grammatical Achille’s heels] for a few minutes but the “spasms” kept coming even stronger, and my vocalizations kept getting louder, bringing Heather and the nurse back into my room.  My main memory at this point is everyone frantically telling me not to push while I tried to explain that I wasn’t pushing, that my body was just doing whatever it was doing.  It seemed sort of like someone telling me mid-vomit to just stop heaving.

They checked my cervix again and told me that I was back at 5 centimeters and my cervix was thickening and swelling up.  I don’t think I realized that you could actually regress.  Thinking back on it, I could have been really disappointed that I went from a 7, almost 8 to a 5 in just a few minutes.  But at the time, I felt no disappointment because I was OUT OF MY MIND WITH PAIN.  Around 11:00 pm, about 20 hours into active labor, I told Neal, “I don’t think I can do this anymore.”  I’m not sure exactly what I thought would happen when I said that because I didn’t ask for an epidural, or necessarily plan on getting one.  I think part of me, quite irrationally, thought that when you admit it, maybe you sort of get a little break.  Not so much :).

Neal, Melissa, and Krisell, of course, assured me that I could do it.  But I remember that I had reached that point where I just felt like I couldn’t and no amount of encouragement revitalized me.  At this point, Heather presented us with two options: 1) I could keep laboring like I was and probably end up with a c-section in an hour or two (since, after all, I was now going backwards) or 2) I could get an epidural now and see if that was enough to stop pushing and get my labor out of its dysfunctional pattern.  Heather ultimately concluded that Addison’s posterior positioning was putting so much pressure on my rectum that it was causing this sort of involuntary pushing; the epidural was the last option before a c-section.  Neal and I consulted briefly about it, but I was ready to consent to the epidural.

Knowing how things turned out (well!), we are inclined to believe that Heather was right.  I was on my way to a c-section if the epidural didn’t work exactly right.  But I think that our biggest regret is that Jana was not the midwife with us because if she had given us the same two options, we would have known that she was being straight with us.  We would feel sure that she was helping us make the right choice for me and the baby, uninfluenced by her preferences or convenience.

I quickly learned that there are a couple of crummy things about getting an epidural after laboring unmedicated for so long.  First, once you accept that you need the epidural, you want it IMMEDIATELY, like yesterday!  It seemed impossible to get through another full hour of contractions/pushing/convulsions/shakes waiting for the anesthesiologist.  Second, you think, why in the H-E-double-hockeysticks did I go through all that pain without medication, just to eventually get an epidural?  WHY?  WHY?

Although that last question crossed my mind more than a couple times, I honestly don’t think I would do things differently if I had to go back and do it all again.  Things moved really quickly from the time I got the epidural, about 12:40 am.  I was fully dilated in 20 minutes, confirming what Melissa kept telling me, that my body was really charging ahead and pumping the oxytocin like nobody’s business.  The baby was still posterior, but Heather wanted to go ahead with the pushing.  She told us to take a 10-minute break while they prepped and then we were going to get going with the pushing.

Since I was considerably more comfortable after the epidural, Neal left my side for the first time in like 12 hours.  He told them he was just going to use the bathroom and would be back in a minute.  Consequently, he was more than a little flummoxed when he returned and found that they had already started me pushing before the 10 minutes were up. [Like I said, Heather was kind of on her own timetable.  In her defense, she had been at the hospital for 48 hours straight and I was her 7th delivery, but still.]

So around 1:10 am, I started pushing.  For all our frustrations with Heather, I will say wholeheartedly that we think she did a GREAT job at this point.  Various people mentioned that the back-up doctor was basically waiting outside my room, assuming that I would either need a c-section or forceps-assisted delivery.  But Heather was willing to try and manually turn the baby as I pushed.  She would prompt me to give “one big push now” or two little “grunty” pushes; she would tell me to push harder or softer, all in an effort to get Addison turned and out without additional intervention.  Although I couldn’t see what was going on down there, at a certain point Heather and the nurses started telling us that “Addie” was so smart, that she knew what to do, that she was turning herself even though she was so far down the birth canal.  They were also impressed with how well I was able to push; it surprised them that I knew right where to bear down even though I had the epidural.  But really, I hadn’t even had the epidural for an hour yet, and I had already been pushing down there for awhile so it probably shouldn’t be too shocking that I could still feel where all the action was happening.

At the point of crowning, Heather said that even though she wasn’t someone who regularly cut an episiotomy, she thought I needed one to avoid a more severe tear.  She told us that if the baby didn’t crown after one more big push, she would cut an episiotomy, which is why Neal was more than a little shocked that she cut the episiotomy right after she said that.  But everything went so fast after that; a minute or two later, almost before I realized what happened, they were putting Addison on my belly.  1:52 am.

For a first-timer, I felt very blessed to push for just 40 minutes and only have a second-degree tear.  [And for those friends who recommended the sitz bath for healing, THANK YOU!!!  Those helped sooo much!]  Even though most of the labor felt very long, the last bit seemed almost like a flash.  It was very surreal for both Neal and I to see her finally out.  We almost couldn’t believe that such a fully-formed, strong little girl just came out of my belly.  I think it was even more jarring for Neal since he had always insisted on thinking of her as a “belly monster” — and she ended up looking much more like a human baby than a monster.

So that’s my story.  Since it has taken me over two months to get that much properly recorded, I’m going to post this and then follow up soon with a few of my final reflections on the whole process.

February 18, 2010

Introducing . . .

Filed under: Family, Personal, Pregnancy — llcall @ 12:13 am

Addison Sage Call

Cur moriatur homo cui Salvia crescit in horto?

Why should a man die whilst sage grows in his garden?

A few pictures of what’s growing in our garden

16 February 2010, 1:52 a.m.

7 lbs. 13 oz.

20 inches

Already showing some attitude!

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