Don’t call us, we’ll call you

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.]


June 23, 2011

I’ve been a very bad blogger lately . . .

Filed under: Motherhood, Personal — Tags: , , , — llcall @ 1:13 am

Especially when it comes to chronicling Addison’s latest and greatest.  Hopefully, that will all change in the near future since I defend at 3:00 PM.  TOMORROW!  YAHOO!

But in the meantime, I had to note Addison’s newest skill.  This morning we were playing with the talking piggy bank that her honorary uncle Brandon sent for her first birthday.  She put one coin in and the piggy said, “One.”  To which she replied, “Two.”  I did a double take . . . did she just count?  So I held up a coin and said, “One.”  And Addison pointed at another coin and said, “Two.”  My first reaction was, “DANG!  My baby just COUNTED!!”  Which was quickly followed by a much more subdued, “Dang, my baby just counted.”  Because, of course, babies can’t count so it seems that my baby isn’t a baby at all anymore.  Boo.

But she kept counting throughout the day so indeed, at least for today, she can count to two.  And we owe it all to Brandon and the talking piggy bank!

May 10, 2011

Dearest Addison,

Filed under: Family, Motherhood, Personal — Tags: , , , — llcall @ 2:53 am

I’m a little late for your first birthday.  But in my defense, I’ve been busy.  Really, really busy.  You’ve been busy too.  Really, really busy.  You’re one busy girl.  No joke.  You know you have a busy, energetic kid when other parents of toddlers comment on it!  Every time I take you to storytime at the library, you’re a social butterfly. You float from person-to-person, especially kids.  You wave (you have the most adorable, coy, little finger-wave).  You smile. You try to climb into their strollers.  You steal their books.  You go fishing in their bags.  You grab their sippy cups.  And you run away from me when I come to track you down.  The other parents watch in awe at this little girl (because you’re still a shorty) that still looks a baby (because you still have very little hair — blame me for that) but runs like a track star.  It is tiring for a sickie like me.

But oh goodness, you are fun.  F-U-N!  Everyone thinks so.  People comment everywhere we go about how friendly, how good-natured, how adorable, and what a tease you are!  Just this afternoon, we were upstairs visiting Grandma and Grandpa (you love to run around upstairs, by the way, pretending like you are going to get into things you aren’t supposed to — Grandma’s china, anyone? — until I come chasing after you) when this happened: you were running at full speed toward Grandpa’s chair when you stopped suddenly and began to back up.  But you didn’t turn around and run the other way, you just started running BACKWARDS.  It only lasted for a few seconds before you fell on your big-diapered bum.  And we all laughed.  And you saw that we were laughing at you and started to laugh in response; you gave these big, loud guffaws every time you could see that we were laughing at you.  You love to tease.  You love to make people laugh.  And you LOVE to be the center of attention.

I worry sometimes that I won’t be the kind of mom that you want or need.  I just don’t have the stamina for all that running around.  When people ask me about it, I say, “I’m a knowledge worker, not a heavy lifter.  And parenting at this stage feels a lot like heavy lifting.”  And so you go to a babysitter for a few hours everyday.  I miss you when you’re gone; I wish that I could have you with me all the time — I want to see every face you make, every new thing you learn.  But I know that I can’t have you with me all the time.  CAN. NOT.  For reals.  My body just wasn’t built for this stage of your life.  I try not to worry about it too much . . . because my body carried you and nursed you and helped you develop into this healthy-as-a-horse, running-so-hard-you-catch-air-when-you-fall girl that you are.  And because I know I’ve got tricks up my sleeve for the day you can sit still for more than three seconds at a time.  Part of me wants that day to come sooner rather than later, but the other part of me (it wins out every time) wants to keep watching you run like the little 15-month-old maniac that you are forever.  As long as daddy’s there to chase after you.

Love to my dearest baby girl,
Ma-ma-ma-ma (that’s how you say it, unless you are telling me to come here, when it is just a mildly-annoyed “ma”)

January 14, 2011

I’m not one to jump to conclusions, but . . .

Filed under: Family, Personal — Tags: , , , , , — llcall @ 8:18 pm

I’m pretty sure the universe is conspiring against us finishing our project.  We are so so close, but every day seems to bring some new obstacle.  Over the last few weeks there has been illness for me, illness for Addison, intense baby constipation (if that doesn’t sound that bad, let me tell you, it was one of the saddest things I’ve ever seen), sleep deprivation, severe weather.

But it was only yesterday that I started to think there really must be some conspiracy.  See, we were going to finish the project yesterday . . . we were that close.  Until about 11 a.m. when I was walking down the hall and heard a small waterfall going on in our bathroom.  Apparently, a pipe backed up and before we even knew what was happening, our bathroom was flooded with a combination of water and black crud.  Thankfully, it was nothing like the great sewage flood of 2008 (which necessitated that our apartment be demo-ed right down to the studs and completely rebuilt) but instead of finishing the project, we spent much of the day cleaning, washing, and trying to  contain the water damage.

But still, I was undaunted . . . we would just finish the project TODAY.  No exceptions.  But Addison (or the UNIVERSE) had other plans.  Something seemed a little strange when she wouldn’t nurse in the morning.  And then she spit up a little, which has been such a rare occurrence that Neal and I both just sat there staring at her with no idea what to do.  We thought we ought to hydrate her somehow — it had been 12 hours since her last drink — so we had her suck on a wet washcloth, which she usually loves.  Well, not so much today as a couple minutes later she was full-on vomiting on my bed, on her clothes, Neal’s clothes.  Come to find out, she actually started the vomiting last night in her crib, but was somehow clever enough to vomit on everything but herself and stay asleep in the process, so we had no idea!

So yeah, we had to cancel the babysitting for today . . . and replace work with washing vomit off practically every surface of the house while comforting a sad, sick, screaming baby.

Universe, I’ll get you for this!

December 29, 2010

Addison’s Christmas gift to me

Filed under: Family, Motherhood, Personal — Tags: , , — llcall @ 4:00 pm

No doubt she was carefully plotting how to melt my heart, and decided that learning to say “mama” was the best way.

Of course, the only downside is that since Neal and I are in a frantic race to finish our consulting project and, in fact, spent a combined 16 hours working on said project on Christmas day, “mama” has thus far mostly been said in near-anguish.  Our little girl is none too happy to be daily turned over to my parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles for all-day care — especially now that she appears to have come down with the same illness(es) that has plagued me for the past couple weeks.  Poor little girl; I look forward to her adorable mamas when I can just cuddle and love on her all day.

December 14, 2010

Mommy update: 31 years

I learned a very important lesson this week: I should never, never write that I wish I had more time to blog.  I will undoubtedly end up sick and in bed within 48 hours.  At least Neal and Addison seem to be staying healthy for the moment.

So here’s your fair warning that I’m going to cover a lot of territory in this post.  Pretty sure a LONG POST ALERT is in order.

For starters, I’ve alluded to the fact that I am officially a “working mom.”  While I had technically been trying to work on my thesis since the summer, it was always in whatever time I could squeeze out during naps and playtime with daddy or grandparents.  But back in early October, Neal was approached by a tutoring company about designing an SAT preparation curriculum (if you didn’t know, Neal runs a small test-prep business, helping high school students prepare for college entrance exams).  Although taking on the project complicated our lives in numerous ways (adding a 350-hour project with a January 1st deadline to school and a baby turns out to be incredibly difficult) and required a crash course in business law, when you live on an irregular income as we do, you have to take the opportunities when they come.  We started looking into drop-off day-care centers so we could get some uninterrupted time to work, but it was definitely hard to take the leap from never having hired a babysitter before (only a handful of family members had previously watched Addison) to putting her in day-care, even part-time.  By chance, I was visiting my friend Meg one Saturday afternoon when she offered to watch Addison for us.  It ended up being the perfect solution!  Even though Addison does really well with new people and places, it gave me a lot of peace of mind to leave her with someone I know.  Plus Meg is a fabulous mom and her child-rearing philosophy lines up well with what I aspire to, so I feel like I’m learning some tips and tricks along the way.

Working on this project and learning to juggle baby care has turned out to be more of a prelude to the future than I expected.  Shortly after we signed the consulting contract, I was offered a 15-hour per week job for next semester.  Justin, the fantastic-PhD-student-turned-BYU-professor that I worked with in Illinois collecting my thesis data, asked if I wanted to work with him again on a research seminar, helping undergraduate students explore the data we collected in 2008 and hopefully get some publications going from it.  Undergrads + research on incarceration + finally polishing a paper that has been in limbo for a year and half.  Yes, please!

I’m not going to take the time now to address all my conflicting feelings about stay-at-home mothering vs. working/juggling (that is one emotionally-chaotic topic for me), but I can say that I am very excited about this research seminar and seeing what comes out of our data set.  And in an unexpected way, it has been a key part of finally kicking my postpartum depression to the curb.

In fact, I can even point to a specific date — 29 September — that a real breakthrough occurred.  I had gone to campus for the first time in months to meet with my thesis advisor and I ran into Justin as well, the first time I’d seen him since he’d started his professorship.  I was only on campus for about an hour and a half total, and during part of that time I was feeding and wrangling my baby girl, but it was long enough for me to feel a sort of renewal.  Suddenly I was talking about juvenile detention centers and economic socialization, and I realized that even though that part of my life had been mostly dormant for a while, the knowledge was all still there — and the passion too.  And on that day, I noticed something about my postpartum depression that I hadn’t seen before — that it wasn’t just about how hard it is to care for a baby, or post-delivery hormones, or struggling with the loss of autonomy.  It was like a cloud hanging over me, dampening my outlook on everything.  I spent months trying to figure out why I wasn’t making progress on my thesis, even when I enlisted my mom’s practically full-time help over the summer, and it never occurred to me just how much it was affected by the postpartum issues I was having.  I had conceived of them as more compartmentalized, but they weren’t at all.  They were affecting every part of my life, and shaking my confidence even in areas where deep-down I knew I had achieved a high degree of mastery.  I didn’t put all of it together on that day, but I remember feeling somehow more alive and awakened than I had for months . . . and by mid-October, around Addison’s 8-month mark, I felt that the postpartum depression was over and done.  Hallelujah!

Although that day of renewal was a key player in overcoming my postpartum depression, another element that happily coincided was Addison learning to crawl.  For some people, baby mobility complicates life, but for us it has undoubtedly made things much MUCH easier.  Carrying her around, constantly having to hand her toys that had fallen just out of her reach, watching her frustration as she wanted to move and couldn’t quite get where she intended was exhausting.  She still craves near-constant human interaction, but not having to hold her while giving her that interaction has been a lifesaver for me.  So crawling = awesome . . . but I’m still leery about the walking thing.  Hoping to put that off for a couple more months at least!

Still, there is one postpartum issue that still plagues me a bit.  It’s nothing new that I have intense and often disturbing dreams.  Since the baby was born, they often revolve around her: I’ve lost her; I’ve rolled over and crushed her (even though we’ve never slept in the same bed); I’ve let her fall off the bed; I’ve inadvertently used her as a pillow (these dreams usually terminate with me waking up patting and soothing my pillow).  I thought that by the 9 or 10-month mark my psyche would be adjusted enough to motherhood that these nightmares would cease, but apparently not, since just the other day I woke up to find myself in the funniest situation yet.  Picture me, sitting on the edge of my bed at about 3 a.m., leaning over my dresser drawer, shushing and caressing a t-shirt, which I firmly believed to be my baby.  [For the record, I did try to find a picture on Google Images to demonstrate, but appropriate search terms were tough to come by.  It’s probably better this way.]  Still, I’ll take these over my pregnancy dreams any day.

Speaking of pregnancy, I’ve been reflecting on it a lot, as last week marked one year since our pre-term labor/appendectomy/almost having a 30-week preemie extravaganza.  Our life would have been so so different if any number of things during those few eventful days would have gone just a tiny bit different.  Those days and their wonderful aftermath remind me just how mindful of us God and his earthly helpers have been over the past year.  There is no greater gift than such an unexpectedly healthy, roly-poly baby girl.  And we couldn’t have cared for her without so many family and friends stepping in to assist, both in-person and via long-distance encouragement.  Thanks for that.

June 8, 2010

What did your pediatrician recommend?

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

When Addison went in for her two-week appointment, our pediatrician told us not to take her out in public until she was two months old.  This being Utah, he specifically said not to take her to church until then.

Just curious if others were given this recommendation, or if our pediatrician is particularly cautious?

May 24, 2010

Baby blessing, 3 April 2010

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

In the LDS Church, a new baby is given a name and a blessing through the power of the priesthood, usually at 2 or 3 months old.  It was no small feat to get most of our families together for Addison’s blessing, considering Neal’s parents were coming from Alabama and Baby Evie was set to arrive in April.  But the stars aligned for a wonderful evening!

Probably the most memorable part for us was some alone time that Neal and I took to pray and ponder together beforehand.  Thanks to Neal’s Aunt Karen for keeping Addison calm and comfortable so we could have those special moments!

Neal gave Addison a beautiful blessing, particularly referencing the meaning of her name (which I plan to write more about next week).  He looked quite dapper doing it, no?

Joining him in the circle was his brother Skylar, dad Kevin, our bishopric member and cousin Andrew, my dad Steve, and my brother Chris:

We had representatives from all four of Addison’s family branches to welcome her.

The Calls:

The Skidmores (Neal’s mom):

The Larsons:

The Hortons (my mom):

We were grateful that we could get most of Neal’s immediate family and all of mine together for the event.

Although it is customary for the little one to be dressed in white, we decided to go with this adorable brown-and-pink ensemble Rachel gave her, partly because we didn’t have a white dress and partly because I’m obsessed with the little matching shoes.  [I realize now that these pictures don’t do the outfit justice; I will have to remedy that soon with a photo shoot!]

We’re grateful for everyone that made the trek out here for the blessing, and for those who were there in spirit.

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.

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