A Story of Will

I was browsing in the granite aisle.  I was feeling the chill of an overly air-conditioned warehouse full of huge slabs of stone, when I stopped and closed my eyes to breathe through a contraction.  I looked at the contraction timer I’d downloaded earlier in the day, and sure enough…they were regular and about 6 minutes apart.  I looked over to Rick to relay that information.  After being induced with my first when I went two weeks late, and knowing my family history of going to 43 weeks or more, I was reluctant to believe this was really it.  We both pursed our lips and tried to play it cool, but it seemed more and more like this was labor.

We finished up our granite shopping and made our way home though late afternoon traffic on I-70.  The regular contractions were slightly uncomfortable, but not enough to  make me squirm in the car, so we talked through our plan if they continued.  My mom, who was ready and waiting at our house, would take over if we had to leave for the hospital in the night.  We had written out the information she needed to watch our older son, so we felt like we just needed to determine when the time was right.  Until I got a more sure sign that labor was imminent, I was operating under the impression that this was just a false alarm – as I’d experienced a few times with my first.

At about 11 pm that night, as my contractions worsened I went to the bathroom and found that I had bloody show.   This seemed like just the sign I’d been waiting for.  I texted my doula, told her my contraction pattern, and she decided to drive up and see us. When she arrived, Rick was pacing and antsy.  As the contractions worsened, he worried that we needed to go to the hospital.  When  Stacey arrived, however, she sat down to watch the contractions herself and after about 20 minutes of watching me as I sat on my birth ball she agreed that we should make our way to the University of Colorado Hospital, about 25 minutes away.  Rick had loaded our bags in his nervousness, so we hopped in the car and made our way there – which was a rough ride for me, as I clutched the door and console trying to ease the back labor I was experiencing in the car.

We arrived and checked in.  They took us to triage to determine whether I was ready to be checked in.  After a brief check of my cervix, my midwife said we’d need to wait a bit longer before they would check me in.  She welcomed us to pace the halls, or head home and come back later.  We were a bit confused as to why we couldn’t stay, but decided that our home, which was undergoing a kitchen renovation and housing our two-year old, would not be a restful place.  We booked a room at a hotel nearby and went there to rest and ride out the labor a bit further.  My husband laid down to sleep.  I, on the other hand, laid down to close my eyes, but every few minutes would leap up to ride out a contraction.  I couldn’t handle them lying down.   This continued for about 4 hours, until my water broke and we headed back to the hospital.

This time we were checked through with no issue.  We got into our labor room and hunkered down.  I was awfully tired because it was now morning and I’d not slept.   My doula wanted me to ride through several contraction while lunging with one leg on a chair.  I did that in an effort to bring the baby down in a non-asynclitic way.   But after a while, my tiredness was getting to me so we moved to the bath.  There, my laboring consisted of me dozing off between contractions.  It sounds insane that one could do that, but my body was in some sort of energy conserve mode.  I’d wake up as the contraction started, ride it though, and then lay my head back and sleep.  Apparently I was even snoring.  I did this for a bit in the tub and it was lovely and gave me some rest.  Then my doula suggested I start dancing.  Some people might think it a strange thing to do, but given the way my first birth went I was game for anything that would get me the VBAC I hoped for.  I had hired te best doula I could find and I wasn’t about to ignore her advice. So, we danced.  I did hula-like moves for what felt like several hours.  The hope, in all this, was to avoid what had happened with my first – a posterior and asynclitic babe, resulting in a cesarean.  My entire pregnancy had been targeted toward this goal. I’d been doing months of chiropractic, religiously sleeping on my side, taking probiotics, reading voraciously, exercising – and it felt like it might just work.

As the contractions began getting stronger, somewhere deep down, I knew that I was experiencing back labor.  With each contraction I’d squirm uncontrollably to take the pressure off.   I decided that something to take the edge off might be nice.  I asked if they had some laughing gas, and before long  had a mask that I could use to “make the contractions not bother me as much.”  The anesthesiologist (who I maintain was a Seth Rogan doppelgänger), was very honest about the fact that nitrous does not mask the pain, but helps you handle it better.  It did.  And, before long I had made my way to a point where I was very tired, wanting to push (well, that had been going on almost since I checked in because the baby was SO low), and wondering if I had the stamina for transition.  I was starting to consider an epidural, but I hadn’t had a cervical check in several hours so Rick suggested that before I go for medications, we should see where I was.  Well, it turns out that I had gone right on through transition without too much drama and was fully dilated!  This was fantastic news!

I started to push.  I was good at pushing!  My midwife was psyched seeing the progress my baby made with each push.  She said she saw the head move nearly two inches each time I gave it my all.  They were readying me to meet my baby any minute and I was thrilled.  There was a part of me that had assumed I’d never get this far, and here I was pushing and being told the baby would be out very soon.  I was elated.  I’d heard people say that pushing felt good.  It does, in the sense that you have some agency in what’s happening, unlike in the earlier contractions, but I can’t say that the sensation was enjoyable.  I was ready to see this baby and have it be done!

After about 45 minutes, the midwife voiced concern that the baby was moving back each time I pushed – more so than normal.  And, worse, the baby was having late heart rate deceleration.  This is language I’d heard before with Cody – not good news.  They called the OB team and a pediatrics team into the room where I was laboring.  Soon, it was just me, Rick, my doula and about 12 doctors, nurses, and other support staff.  About this time I began thinking how grateful I was for having grown up playing sports because without that, I doubt I’d have handled the chorus of 15 people around me yelling and urging me to bear down between contractions nearly as well.  I was also glad for my health and fitness, because it was a lot of work after already laboring for over 24 hours!

The OB introduced herself and told me that they were here to help me get the VBAC I wanted.  First, she felt for the baby’s position.  Posterior – again!  And, asynclitic – again.  She reached in and attempted to manually turn the baby but it was unsuccessful (and very uncomfortable because I was still unmedicated).  They offered two options then – forceps or a vacuum – to help move the baby into a better position.  Vacuum was their recommendation and so we went ahead with it.  A vacuum assisted delivery involves attaching a vacuum pump to the baby’s head to help pull and re-direct it during each push.  So, at the next push they attached the vacuum and I pushed with everything I had.  The OB was literally standing and pushing with one foot on the edge of my hospital bed to help her pull, but the vacuum popped off.  It was a VERY painful experience with no medications and the amount of pressure that she was exerting as she pulled down.  It felt altogether different from just the contractions and pushing alone. Apparently, many women who have a vacuum assisted delivery already have been given pain meds, but I was completely unmedicated and the nurses kept having to remind the OB team of that as they were pulling.  Though I handle pain well, it felt like they were going to rip me apart.  I can’t really even describe the feeling of being on a bed, with 15 people who I barely knew, surrounding me in a state of undress I would never otherwise be in, pushing as hard as possible, with the OB pulling as hard as she can – a sensation that feels like it will rip my insides out, akin to trying really hard to extract a cork from a wine bottle – and everyone yelling at me to push, and bear down, and curl around the baby.  It was insane. Like, definitely not the birth scenario I imagined even when readying myself for the challenge of VBAC.  A second attempt at the vacuum resulted in a pop off.  And finally, my third and last chance.  My midwife and doula both looked at me gravely before the contraction hit and said I needed to give it every ounce I had (as if I hadn’t already been doing this through the two previous attempts).  The contraction started, and I curled hard around the baby as I lay on my left side, giving over every fiber of muscle in my body to the pushing.  The contraction began to wane, and I kept pushing to keep the baby from sliding back, but as the OB pulled, the vacuum popped off for the third and final time.  The OB and my midwife slowly approached my head and said that the time had come to move to a cesarean, they asked my permission as I panted and collapsed onto the bed, exhausted, and I said yes.  In seconds I was being wheeled out of the room, too tired and overwhelmed to even realize that Rick wasn’t with me.  It wasn’t until they were prepping me for the spinal block that I realized he was nowhere to be found.

Back in the OR, I was too exhausted to be upset at the need for a c-section.  I was hanging on, sitting on the edge of the bed through the strong contractions waiting for my spinal to kick in, which took a few minutes.  Soon though, they had me on the table and pulled the curtain up blocking my view, explaining that they would move it down when things calmed as the baby was born – the hospital had a gentle cesarean option!  I was so thrilled.  But, that time never came for me…

Soon Rick was at my head, and I could tell something was happening on the other side of the curtain.  I assumed they’d tell me when they started th surgery, but they didn’t and it was underway.  It was going slowly.  Very slowly.  As I later learned, when they cut me open they found an abdomen cemented together with very bad scar tissue from my previous cesarean.  So much so that they were forced to do the internal incision higher on my uterus as the scar tissue had cemented other organs and tissue in place over my previous scar.  It was a lot of work to get in, and when they did, Will was in bad shape.  He was in the birth canal, so he had to be pushed out from below and pulled by his feet from the incision.  It was obviously not an easy birth, and it took a lot longer than my first surgery.  I was beginning to fade in and out of consciousness on the table by the time Will was finally removed.  He didn’t cry. The room was very quiet. They didn’t show him to me or Rick.  All I saw was a limp baby being rushed to the other side of the room where a table was set up for resuscitation.  It says something about my mental state that I was so sleepy and figured it would all be ok.  My recollection of this period was several people around Will working hard with a CPAP and doing CPR, Rick shaking above me and crying and sternly telling me not to fall asleep – though the drugs were saying the opposite.  I can’t give you a clear story about this piece, and whenever I ask Rick about it he gets so emotional he can’t really express how he felt.  It was very hard on him seeing Will and I in such precarious positions.

Finally, after several minutes they got Will breathing.  He had an APGAR score of 1 at birth, and 5 minutes out he was a 7, but he wasn’t totally out of the woods.  He spent a night in the NICU because breathing wasn’t coming easily for him.  Me, they stitched back up and wheeled into the recovery room.  The OBGYN took a moment to try to share with me that if I choose to have more children, I will need to have a c-section, because at this point between the new incision placement and the scar tissue it is too risky not to.

I certainly didn’t comprehend the gravity of the situation we faced during Will’s birth.  Each time a doctor visited me they asked in a low voice how I was doing because I’d had a traumatic birth.  To me, honestly, the birth had been a mixed bag.  I was incredibly happy and proud to have labored through what I did, unmedicated and without interventions.  When it came to having had the vacuum assist and eventually the c-section, it seemed to me that I had given the VBAC my all including months of chiropractic, herbs, probiotics, exercise, and working in advance with a team of exceptionally talented people.  I felt confident that under those circumstances, if a c-section was needed then it was truly a necessary intervention.  That said, it wasn’t until a follow-up with my doula that the gravity of the situation struck me.  She said “In situations like yours, we have to be glad for the option of c-section or you and Will wouldn’t be here.”

Wow.  I could have left my toddler without a mom, my husband without a wife, and died in childbirth along with my baby. Holy shit.

So, there has been much to process in the follow-up to this birth.  New life, an expanding family, potential mortality, and the higher risks of choosing to have another baby in the future.  Honestly, this has been much of the reason I haven’t written about Will’s birth. I vacillate between feeling scared, triumphant, bewildered, and this unshakable feeling that I am a let down.  That, in the evolutionary scheme of things, I’d be a dead-end if it weren’t for surgical intervention.  It is a feeling I wrestle with daily.  As I workout and try to get back to a place of fitness and health postpartum, I wonder if this is me recovering and healing after my final baby?   Would be best if I never have any more babies?  The risk is bigger than I’d like or than I anticipated, and I sort of feel that I should just let things lie as they are even though I’ve always wanted more kids.  I am really struggling to get my head around this.  And, I think that though I know now the experience of laboring and feel proud I was able to handle it – I also feel that it is more obvious than ever that something is amiss inside me that causes my babies to be poorly positioned and therefore makes vaginal birth a real challenge.  But what is it?  Why can nobody answer that question?  And now, two surgeries in, I’ve foreclosed any previously available options where I might have been able to correct the issues…

But hey, I know that wading into these questions only causes me to go in circles wondering about things I’ll probably never have answers to.  I have two beautiful, healthy kids.  I am healthy and healing. These are the truly real, concrete, and important things.   But, man, birth really brings out a lot of dark, weird stuff – exposing your insecurities and challenging your self-confidence while also bringing these wonderful beings into your life.  What a crazy thing life is.

I wish I could say more.  As I said, I’m still dong a lot of processing internally and wondering what it all means for me and my family.  I will do my best to report of this more regularly here.  I feel it is important to share this information, though I’ve found it incredibly hard to talk about.

 

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Cody

It’s taken me awhile to get to a place where I felt I could talk through my feelings about Cody’s birth on this blog.  I’m still not sure I can definitely say one thing or another about it, except it changed everything.  I look at the smiling, gentle, happy baby he is and I am utterly astonished at how happy being a mother has made me. Though I am extremely sleep deprived, still 20 pounds heavier than when I got pregnant, and trying to find a balance between work, baby, my husband, and myself, I am still – above all – happy.

I feel as though pregnancy did not in any way prepare me for my feelings here and now, or during labor, or really anywhere in between.  My pregnancy felt surreal to me, and the fact that I would have a baby and be a mother at the end of it all was an abstraction I couldn’t fully comprehend.  Even now, I’m not sure I fully comprehend the ramifications of motherhood, but what I do know is that an element of choice is gone from my life now.  If Cody needs me, I will be there for him.  It’s not an option to be anything but.  Truly.

I hear about Mommy wars and these massive rifts over how best to raise a child and I sometimes wonder how anyone can so rigidly abide by any one parenting style.  I think what it comes down to is more or less what feels right.  And, more and more I’m learning that what feels right and is MY truth, is not always what I’d anticipated – right from the start.

When Rick and I decided to go off birth control and let nature take its course, we really anticipated it could take a while.  In fact, I was so sure that I wasn’t really at all worried that our “trying” coincided with my job search.  Well, neither the job search nor the trying took long to come to fruition.  Before I knew it, I was pregnant and starting my first day at a new job. Scary!  But, wonderful all the same.

My entire life prior to begin pregnant I predicted I’d be an absolutely horrible pregnant person.  I’m a terror when I’m hormonal and when you couple that with feeling fat, there really was no way (I thought) that anyone would want anything to do with me while I was pregnant.  In truth, whatever hormones that were coursing through my body made me mellower and sweeter than I normally am.  I was calm, happy, and rarely moody.  It was shocking – and wonderful.  I’m not going to claim I loved being pregnant, because I did not.  But, I was amazed at how comfortable and happy I was through the process.

I spent my time during my pregnancy preparing for birth.  I read Ina May Gaskin constantly.  I fully embraced the goal of having a natural childbirth without drugs.  I immersed myself in my hypnosis scripts – intent on having a peaceful, drug-free hypnobirth.  In truth, nothing about that plan went the way I anticipated.  Eleven days after my due date I was still pregnant as can be.  I tried everything to bring forth my baby – sex, pineapple, spicy food, evening primrose oil, black and blue cohosh, eggplant, tea from the apothecary, acupuncture, massage, yoga, stairs, dancing, and even the dreaded castor oil.  They all failed me.  I cleaned the house.  I meditated to prepare myself for my baby’s arrival.  When the time came to talk induction I pushed back on my doctor over and over again.  But eventually, 12 days past my due date, I went in for an induction.  It was very sad to me.  I had attached such meaning to the act of birthing my baby and beginning the process with an induction felt like a failure from the start.  Yet, on the flip side, failure or not, I was excited to see what the process would hold for me and eager to get it moving along. Our induction started off on the wrong foot when I requested the cervical softener cervidil in place of cytotec.  The nurse on duty pushed back on me, essentially telling me I was uninformed.  Then she told me about how she induced for both of her babies because she wanted their birth dates to fall on specific days.  I wasn’t impressed.  We were not of a similar mind (which appeared to hold true for all but one of my nurses (and I had about 6)).  Cervidil is administered overnight, and in my case that meant that Rick and I spent the night in the hospital together, which is the least romantic place to spend the last night you’ll ever have with just your husband.  Just sayin’.

Overnight, I began having contractions and by morning they were coming on semi-regularly.  We asked my doctor if we could allow labor to progress naturally, and she said yes. We were thrilled.  We also asked that she massage out some scar tissue on my cervix from a LEEP and colposcopy I’d had several years before which was inhibiting dilation for me.  Once she massaged out the tissue, my cervix popped open to three centimeters after holding steady at a half centimeter for weeks. Internally, I cursed the doctors who never mentioned this side effect during my previous procedures.  This is truly something that women and other doctors should be better informed about given how prevalent LEEPs and colposcopies are to treat unusual cell formations that show up on pap smears.  But, moving forward, my contractions steadily increased in strength though their frequency continued to be irregular.  Before long I opted to try laboring in the tub, where my sister and Rick alternated in reading me hypnosis scripts. We bounced between the tub and bed for a while, my doula came, and before long several hours had passed.  By mid-afternoon they checked me again, but alas my dilation was stalled at 3 cm.  My doctor gave me two choices – break the waters, or begin Pitocin. Because I was group B strep positive, breaking the waters posed more risk, but I REALLY didn’t want pitocin.  We bargained for an hour to walk the halls.  After the hour was up and nothing had changed my Doctor stated playing hardball.  She spent about 10 minutes on the phone with Rick,  mocking us for all the reading we’d done and our strong distaste for Pitocin and interventions.  She threatened to send us home.  She dripped condescension and rudeness.  We all were left with a horrible taste in our mouths over the whole thing.  And after weighing all the options, we decided to try Pitocin at half strength. I labored on Pitocin for 7 hours, during which time my contractions increased in severity tremendously.  I needed all three of my helpers – Rick, Max, and my doula,  to rotate giving me supportive hip squeezes to ease my back labor.  I fell to the ground from pain during some of my contractions.  I uttered these guttural noises I’d never though possible.  I started vomiting from the pain.  Finally, I passed my mucus plug, and then my water broke.  It was such a relief to have at least one part of my labor happen without direct intervention!  Finally, contractions were getting so severe I was sure I needed to use the bathroom.  This, we all took to mean I was in transition – somewhere between 7-10 cm dilated and soon to start the pushing phase.  So, we asked for a pelvic exam only to find out that I was only dilated to about 6 cm.  After 7 hours of laboring on Pitocin, and about 14 hours of contractions before that, I was considering the epidural.  Soon, I was hit with about 5 contractions that just about leveled me.  I looked at Rick and told him that despite all my earlier wishes, I wanted the epidural. If I felt bad now, I didn’t think I could handle transition without it.  So, off they went to line it up – only 30 minutes to wait!  This of course, was the worst 30 minutes of my life. They could hardly get a window to insert the epidural as my contractions bore down hard and unrelentingly.  But alas, soon the sweet epidural kicked in and  though my heart rate dropped and they needed to administer me oxygen, I was the happiest lady around.

And thus began my epic saga of laboring with an epidural – which necessitates a catheter because you’re stuck in bed (even though I could move my legs and kneel, etc.).  I slept for about 3 hours once the epidural took over, but then I was back awake.  At this point I’d been in the hospital about 30 hours from the beginning of my induction. Rick and I were able to steal a few precious moments to ourselves in the middle of the night as everyone else slept.  We lamented the turn of events, but were giddy to finally meet our baby. We continued to labor (slowly) for another 15 hours or so.  I changed positions several times to see if that would help progression.  It didn’t.  Nurses came running in to make sure the baby’s heart rate was steady several times. It was.  They packed me full of a gazillion saline IV bags until my whole body was swollen to twice its size.  Then they pronounced me nearly complete.  9.5 cm dilated about 45 hours from the beginning of my induction.  They warned that the worst was ahead and left us to think, reminding us that the baby could weigh 9 or 10 pounds based on our last ultrasound.  I listened to hypnosis scripts for about an hour and prepared myself to begin pushing when they gave me the go. But, after an hour an armada of nurses entered my room with my doctor. My doctor explained that they were all very worried about me.   My contractions were no longer regular, even on heavy Pitocin.  If I forged ahead, I could be pushing for hours because they determined my baby was asynclitic (head cocked) and posterior.  They said they’d ordered extra blood for fear I’d hemorrhage or need an emergency C-section.  They left me to talk it over, but made sure the c-section consent form was within arm’s reach.

I looked at Rick and my doula and admitted I’d been bearing down for the last hour, hoping to speed things along.  Rather , it left my cervix swollen and less dilated than before.  I was ready to meet my baby, and to stop these interventions which were doing very little.  I was also scared.   I was ready for the C-section.  We agreed to do it, sadly. I signed the forms.

About  a half hour later, I was wheeled into surgery with Rick nervously at my side, discussing whether he would stay with me or the baby in the event something went wrong.   I know the “right” answer should probably be that we both would say go with the baby, but I was relieved to hear him say that if anything went wrong he’d stay with me because “he hasn’t even met the baby.” I was touched and honestly agreed it was right.  It’s funny looking back on this, because we care so much for Cody – it’s hard to believe that just a few months ago we would have sort of abandoned him in this way.

When they got me into the surgery room we went over the process of things, and I got some drugs, and they explained how everything would happen.  Before I knew it, I could feel tugging and pulling in my abdomen, which was surreal feeling – but didn’t hurt.  Then they warned me it would feel like an elephant was standing on my chest for a few moments, and it did! But, before long I could hear the commotion of the staff as they pulled Cody out.  “He’s so big!” they exclaimed!  And then, ” Oh my gosh, he’s peeing on everyone!” It was disconcerting hearing the joy in people’s voices as this baby was “born” while meanwhile I lay behind a blue curtain, unable to feel or experience this supposedly life-changing moment.  I felt a few tears well up, more because my emotions were so mixed at this point.  I felt confused and the process was so surreal – yet I was supposed to be joyful at the birth of my child.  Instead, I was confused and, apparently, hemorrhaging.  They held Cody over the curtain for me to see – this wriggling, slimy thing.  He was so skinny and his head was so big!  His eyes were wide and alert.  I remember being shocked that this was the being I’d housed for nine months, but touched at his smallness and tenacity.  They took him for a moment to weigh and measure him, and came back to put him on my chest – a difficult feat with a curtain blocking most of my chest.  Instead, Rick held him near my head and we talked to him – which seemed to awaken a bit of recognition in him.  He seemed to know that our voices were the ones he’d been hearing for so many months – and his wails softened and quieted.  We all observed each other in awe.

As all this was happening, a small commotion was going on.  I was bleeding a lot.  And my blood pressure was dropping.  To the credit of the staff, nobody acted as though this was scary, but they gave me a few meds to help stop the bleeding.  These made me feel like I was freezing on the table, and soon I began to shiver and my teeth even began to chatter.  They couldn’t give me anything but a paper cover to help me stay warm.  It was so uncomfortable.  And, they took the baby away briefly to clean him off and let the staff stitch me back up.  Around here my memories get foggy – another thing nobody warned me about.   The anesthesia they give you, though it allows you to be conscious during the birth, really messes with your memory.  As a result, my first few hours with Cody were a hazy blur.  Rick has filled in some of the blanks, but I don’t remember much.  We were taken to a recovery room and the nurse there seemed more interested in the Cowboys game than me.  I breastfed for the first time, and had NO idea what I was doing.  Eventually someone – I think a pediatric nurse, came in and gave me some pointers – then things began to go more smoothly.  Cody latched well, and immediately.   None of the surgical staff or doctor’s came by to explain the procedure or see me.  Nobody told me I hemorrhaged.  It felt lonely and sterile. They also wouldn’t let my family in for almost an hour.   So, that’s a cesarean birth for you.  Nothing I intended or expected, and nothing I hope to experience again.  I try not to think about it.  In fact for the first several weeks I struggled to even say that Cody was “born” opting for the more accurate and significantly more awful, “Cody was cut out of me.”  I’m still weighing whether to attend the ICAN cesarean birth support group meetings that happen once a month.  Haven’t gone yet, and as it fades into the distance it seems less and less likely. But I definitely see the need.  This surgery is overused, and in my opinion, done poorly and without regard for the feelings and experience of the mother and father.  My incision healed badly and opened back up a few weeks after my birth.  It was hell trying to handle a newborn after abdominal surgery.  It just sucked a lot.

To this day I’m not sure whether the C-section was needed.  I know he was posterior and asynclitic and those conditions often result in cesareans. But could it have been different?  I still don’t know if things would have progressed better if I’d resisted the system more or if they had identified that he was posterior earlier.  I wonder often whether my next deliveries will end the same way and whether I’ll ever know the experience of birthing my child the natural way.  When I think hard about it, it makes me very upset.  I try not to think about it too much.  Which, is easy because having a newborn totally upends your life, especially if you’re also healing from a cesarean.  There isn’t a lot of time, or mental capacity, to reflect.

It’s odd.  I expected that labor to go smoothly and to be the one part of pregnancy that I would handle well.  In reality, it was a disaster.  But everything before and after has been smooth sailing.  Cody and I have rocked at breastfeeding.  He never even lost weight in the hospital they way most babies do.  His pediatrician told me that some moms make milk, and some make cream.  I am in the latter group.  I know that sounds like I am bragging.  I am.  It is something I feel good about, when everything else about his delivery went totally off-plan and against my wishes.  I am clinging to this one piece as evidence of success in carrying out this transition to motherhood.  I thought I would suck at breastfeeding and that it would be really hard for me.  It was hard, and incredibly painful in the first few weeks.  I got a blocked duct, mastitis, and then it turned into an abscess.  It’s been hard for me – but Cody has been packing on the pounds and we have both had such an incredible opportunity to bond. I love breastfeeding and hope we can continue for a long time.

Now, 11 weeks from his birth, I have this perfect baby.  He laughs and smiles and babbles baby words at me all the time.  I am so smitten with this little person who leaves me absolutely sleep-deprived, unable to fit into my clothes, covered in spit-up and poop,  and exhausted.   During the first few weeks it felt like the stress of a newborn could tear Rick and me apart – we were so tired and unable to come up for air, so to speak.  Now, we have established a routine.  We can balance our needs and make time for each other.  We both feel blessed and have found a renewed sense of purpose in our lives.  Cody has been a life-changer and made me totally re-evaluate all my assumptions, but yet here I am, happier than ever.

 

 

 

Sweetness to me

Light filters softly through our bamboo blinds as I slowly became aware of myself enveloped in grey flannel sheets, curled on my side, warm in the embrace of a thick down comforter.  My eyes flutter open, and I look down to see, nuzzled in the hollow of my  body, a perfect nearly bald head pressed against my chest, delicate hands and arms loosely grasping my shirt contentedly in sleep.  I stare for a moment — at times the adjustment to this reality takes a second — and then I listen for the soft gurgle of his breath.  There it is. There he is.  This little, delicate human, snuggled into the hollow of my chest and belly, next to my heart – a spot he’s already called home for many months.

Our mornings look like this. Rick leaves us early in the dark, often as I feed the baby.  We say sad parting words, for it really is a tragedy that Rick must leave us each day to be with other children.  We finish our feed, and snuggle into a short morning sleep for a few more hours.  Addie curls in the crook of my bent knees, Cody curls in the crook of my body.  Soon we fall into a rhythm of slowed breathing and drift to sleep for a few more blessed hours, joining legions of other women through the ages who, exhausted and in love, collapse into a sweet delicate sleep curled around their babies. Now, as I type, he inhabits the same space in a different form.  Tied snugly to my chest in a wrap, he sleeps peacefully. Looking down I am struck, as always, by the perfection of his skin – a pink and ivory expanse, criss-crossed with pale blue veins on his skull.  I know his future will be filled with sun-soaked days and that this perfect ivory skin will soon be populated with hundreds of freckles.  Now, it is a doll’s face I look at – utter symmetry, wide cheeks, a button nose, beautifully curled rose lips.  The palest of blond eyebrows, and slightly darker lashes, growing longer by the day.  In sleep, his perfection absolutely stuns me. I wonder often, how two normal-looking people could create what lies here before me.  Awake – his perfection morphs into something more like wonder.  I stare at his bright blue eyes.  Since the day he was born, they have tracked on people and objects displaying an alertness that I think both his parents lack.  He wrinkles his nose, or raises his eyebrows over and over as he breastfeeds with each gulp. He smiles when you scratch under his chin or make a silly face.  He cries when he is hungry or needs a diaper change, but rarely for any other reason.  In fact, I’ve noticed he seems mainly to cry when he is left alone – almost out of boredom or loneliness.  And I’m both proud and touched that these seem to be the main reasons he needs me – entertainment and the simple act of loving and touching him, holding him to my body where our breathing and heartbeats are closer together as they were before he was born.

I’m not sure that motherhood changes people.  I think motherhood brings out what has always been there, by putting a face and name on something that probably has long been latent in many of us.  For me, it is a softness that I don’t always show.  It is a sweet, protective, caring side that only those close to me ever really see.  I have always been an older sister, a caretaker and teacher to my siblings.  I have always deeply loved animals. The logical leap required to know I’d take to motherhood is small.  But yet, I am amazed by the whole thing. Amazed at the naturalness of it – the instinctiveness that comes from within, and also the memories that come back to me of my childhood and helping my mom with my two younger sisters.  I’m amazed at the joy I take in staring at Cody as he sleeps.  I’m amazed that Rick leaves in the morning and comes back in the evening and my day has disappeared between diaper changes, feeds, and snuggling with my snoring baby.  Nothing gets done, and though it bothers me, I don’t want to put him down to do something else.  (Thus, the hiatus in my blogging.)

I sing him all the lullabies I know.  I have revisited every camp song I’ve ever sung.  On my trip back from Telluride with him, he cried for the last hour, despite multiple stops to feed him and change his diaper.  He was bored and sick of driving, so I sang to him.  It was all that would quiet him down.  And soon I ran out of songs.  So, I sang the Star Spangled Banner over, and over, and over again until I nearly lost my voice.  Each time I stopped, he would slowly begin to fuss again.  And so I sang on.  And this is motherhood.  It is truly giving up yourself in so many ways, but I hope to do it with grace.  At times I struggle to accept all the changes – I have had a hard go of it, physically: 47 hour labor, a C-section, 4 days in the hospital to recover, then a blocked duct, mastitis, and abscess, breastfeeding pains, my C-section incision got infected and re-opened. I have had to go on two courses of antibiotics. My teeth are suffering, and I may have broken a bone in my foot while walking. Pregnancy is no joke.  It is HARD on your body.  Bringing someone new into the world is, I suppose, a responsibility not to be taken lightly or underestimated.

When I first saw Cody, held above me on an operating table – a slimy, wriggling little thing – I didn’t immediately fall in love.  But when I looked into his eyes as Rick held him near me while they stitched me up, and saw this little guy just trying to make it, he touched my heart.  Each day as we have built our relationship together, I fall more in love with the little man he is turning out to be.  A bright, alert, smiling child who wants to be held and loved and snuggled.  He makes me happy to come home, and gives me drive and renewed purpose.  He is sweetness embodied.  When I hold him, he holds me back and I know he needs me.  I am his mom.  It is the most special, exultant thing I could hope for.

What they don’t tell you about.

What they don’t tell you about is the feeling of waking up in the morning eight days past your due date to nothing happening.  What they don’t tell you is about 11 hours of reliable contractions that just stop for unexplained reasons.  What they don’t tell you about is the bittersweet agony of an appointment with your doctor where you learn that despite your best efforts, the baby you expected about a week ago seems happily content and healthy in your womb, and that very little has changed on the dilation or effacement front.  What they don’t tell you is how despite their best intentions, friends and family will give you the impression that your desire for a natural childbirth is really inconveniencing their travel plans.  What they don’t say is that you might get emotionally exhausted by waiting, false starts, and the knowledge that you derive from a line of women who regularly incubate babies for something more akin to ten months, but that doctors won’t let you do that nowadays – so you may be induced despite all efforts to prevent that outcome.

I know my focus here should truly be on the happy little man swimming around in the abundant amniotic fluid still in my uterus.  My womb appears to be extremely healthy. My baby has no desire to leave.  This, in many respects, is a good thing.  Were it not for my own expectations, and a sense of responsibility to provide a baby to our family who has flown in from as far away as London to see us, perhaps I would be feeling pretty great that I could provide such a comfortable home for the little guy.  He has been pleasant and wonderful for the entirety of my pregnancy.  I have absolutely nothing to complain about.

But yet, this morning, after 11 hours of contractions yesterday that really got our hopes up, when I awoke to NOTHING happening, I cried. When I went to the doctor and she told me that nothing had progressed despite a rollicking game of Apples to Apples with my family that I was SURE had dilated my cervix at least a centimeter or two – I felt morose.  I have more or less outgrown all but a handful of my maternity clothes.  I made it to 40 weeks without stretch marks, and then boom – I got like three.  My entire body is swollen and I cannot stop itching.  I am so ready to be done with being pregnant.  All I want to do is roll over in bed without it having to be a monumental effort.  All I want is the ability to tie my shoes gracefully without falling over.  All I want is for my baby to be born.

According to my terms, that is.

I guess that’s the issue.

I suppose tomorrow I could call my doctor and induce and this all could end.  But I don’t want it to happen like that. I want to know the feeling of going into labor.  I want to not have drugs in my body when I birth my child.  I want to know that I could do it naturally the way mothers have done it for centuries.  It’s important to me.  I want to maximize the chances of that happening, and inducing seems counterproductive to ALL of my goals – besides that one about having the baby.

I worry that I’m overly attached to this goal of a natural childbirth.  After all, detaching oneself from outcomes and living in the moment is supposedly the way to avoid suffering – according to buddhism.  But then I wonder if suffering (in this case) is really so bad?  I mean, if I suffer a bit for a goal that is worthwhile and meaningful to me, why is that harmful?  Is being attached to that outcome truly a bad thing?  I know everyone says that as long as the baby is healthy all is good.  But, to me the health of the baby is one part of a larger set of goals and I’d really like to achieve them all.  I want to have an empowering birth experience.  I want to take ownership of my body and experience the monumental achievement of bringing life into the world on my own.  I want to feel the joy of having my contractions get stronger and more powerful, and to ride the hormonal and emotional waves that accompany this process.  I want to feel the “wall” that I’ve read about so many times, and to push past it.  I want a birthing experience that I emerge from as a stronger, more self-confident, and capable woman.  And, this delay is heightening my sense of concern that perhaps this will not go as I’d planned.

The stress of the situation is palpable.  I want to talk to nobody. I want time to myself.  Rick is equally exhausted from the emotional roller coaster.  Addie doesn’t know what to do – so she binged on chocolate truffles and took the world’s biggest poop under the baby crib.  Clearly we are all at our wit’s end.  It is negative 6 degrees, which makes escaping to a park to walk the baby out a bit more challenging.  I am trying to remember that these pieces don’t define the situation, they shape my perception of it.  I am trying to remind myself that this inconvenience is merely one of attitude. In fact, a recent study shows that women can vary by as much as 37 days in their gestation times, regardless of date of conception.  I REALLY shouldn’t be stressed by my baby’s perceived “lateness.”  But, yet, I have allowed myself to get emotionally exhausted by this process.

My grandma made it through 3 pregnancies that went nearly a month overdue.  So, yet again, I’m attempting to channel her strength to help me manage my emotions as I navigate my way through the vicissitudes of being late.  Wish me (and all who must deal with me) luck in the process.