Wednesday, July 29, 2015

It's a Girl!

And she's here!!! Ellis Juliette was born on 5/22/15 at 12:57PM. I was telling my best friend about the birth when she came to visit at the hospital, and she said I should write it down quickly because she has already forgotten so many of those details of her 14-month-old daughter's birth. So I will try to do that, even though I'm blinded by exhaustion and my little one may wake and realize she pooped herself any minute. (Edited to add: This actually ended up taking me over two months to finish writing...)

Thursday (5/21) I spent the day getting the house ready. I'm told now that might have been my nesting that should have warned me of what was to come that evening, but even in retrospect it doesn't feel like the stories of crazed, manic cleaning that I've heard so much about from my doula and peers and the books I've read. I just felt like I had the day to do things and the clock was ticking so I might as well get to some of it. For instance, in the days since my due date, we had gone through all our fresh veggies, so I thought we should go grocery shopping to make sure we didn't come home to an empty fridge after delivery. I had just done laundry a few days prior, but again, since I hadn't yet had the baby, it was adding up again and I didn't want us to come home from the hospital to a full basket of dirty clothes. So I did that load, and also one of towels and sheets so I could make the bed up fresh.

It was a very productive day, and by the end, I was looking forward to Talmud study at temple. My rabbi does a three-part course every year around this time as we lead up to Shavuot, my favorite Jewish holiday. I love, love, love Talmud study so I figured I'd make the best of the situation (being "overdue") by taking advantage of going to this class that I would have missed if the baby had been born by the due date. About halfway through, around 8:00PM, I felt some severe back pain, like I would get before my period except worse. It eased up after a bit, and then came back a little later. Having it come and go immediately made me wonder, and I checked the time on my phone. It had been 13 minutes. I waited to see if it happened again, and it did, around 11 minutes. Then it happened twice more ten minutes apart. The last time was so uncomfortable that I was shifting around in my seat and had to get up to walk around. Sitting down didn't help, walking didn't help, nothing. And I realized I was definitely in labor.

After that fourth contraction passed, I went back to the room where class was finishing up. As we ended, a woman asked me how I was feeling, and I said, "I think I'm in labor." Everyone looked at me and she said, "Right now??" I said, "For the past 40 minutes or so..." Someone commented on how calm I seemed, that they were in a panic with their first baby while I sat there silently laboring in class. Rabbi offered to call Nicole to come get me, but I was so uncomfortable and didn't want to have to wait for her and figure out what to do with two cars at that point. I said I lived only ten minutes away and could always pull over if it became unmanageable or unsafe while I had one on the way. Another woman offered to follow me home to make sure I was okay, which I gratefully accepted.

I came home around 9:30PM, and my mother, who had arrived in town the previous week, was watching TV and my wife was upstairs getting ready for bed. I said, "Um, I think I'm in labor," and she got so excited. I then went up and told my wife, who yelled at me for driving home and then instructed me to call the doula. I didn't want to disturb her because some part of me was skeptical as to whether this was really labor since I felt it so much in my back. I knew it was supposed to start there and move around, but it was unbearably there. I would have to lean over my exercise ball or furniture just to get through each contraction, even though they had just started and the abdominal discomfort itself was minimal (a bit of a gassy, bloating feeling). I decided to call the doula because it was early enough to give her a heads up now rather than having to surprise her in the middle of the night. She said she was glad I let her know and that it was probably still early so to take it easy and relax since I would need to conserve my energy for the morning.

I told my mother and wife to go to bed because it was probably still early and I would need my support team as rested as possible when this started to really get underway. But it started moving fast! I tried to take a bath, I tried to lay on the couch and distract myself with light TV programming, but nothing could help me rest when my back was being ripped apart every eight, six, four minutes. By 12:30AM, the contractions were three and a half minutes apart. I knew my doctor wanted to be notified at three minutes, and that my wife needed to pack a bag and my mother was hoping for a shower if she had time. So I called the doctor, who told me to go ahead in, and then I woke my wife and mother and told them to get ready. They couldn't believe I had labored down to contractions three and a half minutes apart without waking them for support. But some primal part of me was just focused and trying to get through them, and I didn't realize how quickly everything was progressing. I'd had such a different picture of early labor - that I would just feel discomfort every twenty minutes or so for a while and bake or watch TV to distract myself, maybe even sleep for a while, before ultimately having the doula meet us at our house and help with pain management as I worked my way down to three minutes. I didn't think I'd just be alone in pain over an exercise ball and then suddenly leaving for the hospital!

Contractions hit me on the way to the car and in the car that had me doubled over and unable to speak or move. I had one on the way through the front doors of the hospital and almost collapsed on the sidewalk because there was nothing to lean over as it ripped through my back. I finally got registered and taken to triage, where our doula soon met us. I was anxious and scared by this point. I had always taken such a peaceful, almost hippie-like view of labor and childbirth and did not expect to feel as scared as I did. I had not expected the pain to feel this excruciating, and it completely threw me off. We had learned so many pain management techniques with our doula, and now I could barely move to even do any of them! I was in too much pain to even change position IN bed, let alone get out of bed and into any other position.

My blood pressure, which was slightly elevated pre-pregnancy but had maintained a steady 110/70 my entire pregnancy, was now starting to rise. I was attached to a fetal monitor and a sonogram was done. My doula asked about the baby's position, and that's when we learned that she had turned facing forward. She had been in the proper position for months, at least since the 32 week sonogram and as recently as the 40 week sonogram, so I'd had no reason to suspect that I was having the dreaded back labor! The back labor was so intense that I wasn't getting a break between contractions as nature intends. My back felt like it was splitting in half, and that pain was continuous between and during contractions. My doula applied counterpressure on my lower back to try to help me get through the contractions; sometimes it helped, and sometimes it almost felt worse.

When I was finally checked and told I was at 4.5cm and the baby was still high, I burst into tears. The contractions were so close together and so painful that I felt sure I had progressed more than that, considering I was already over 2cm before I even went into labor. I began wailing in pain and desperation, just crying into my wife's chest and shutting my eyes to try to escape it all. Someone came to gently talk about the option of an epidural, "even though your birth plan says not to." They also said that they would admit me if I took one, and otherwise I would not yet be admitted and could just walk around the hospital floor until I was farther along. I couldn't even imagine getting out of bed. My doula was encouraging me to get on my side and I felt like I couldn't even move. I wailed into my wife's shirt and looked up at the doula and said something like, "I'm only 4.5, how can I keep doing this to 10!"

The doula reminded me of what I'd said I wanted and said she would support me through whatever it was I wanted now. She asked what I was afraid of, what was getting in my way of feeling I could do this, and I said, "It hurts so much in my back, without a break, even between contractions, that I feel like I can't survive it, and I still have so far to go." Then I just cried and wailed and couldn't speak, and she said gently, "Remember we talked about the difference between pain and suffering. You seem to be suffering. What do you want to do?" I closed my eyes and cried against my wife and said, "I want the epidural." It was the hardest thing to say, even with her passive permission and non-judgment. I felt like I'd wasted her time and mine by spending all these prenatal sessions learning alternative pain management techniques, reading books and watching documentaries that I felt empowered me to choose an unmedicated birth. I felt like I'd given up so fast. Tears spike my eyes even as I write this now (two weeks to the day, since it's taken me a long time to write up this entire post that I started shortly after birth). I felt like I'd failed, like I wasn't anywhere nearly as strong as I'd thought I could be, and like women in many places in the world and throughout history have had to be.

But I also knew that I had crossed that line. No part of me questioned the decision - I knew I needed it, I didn't feel physically or emotionally capable of going through the rest of labor this way, and I knew without a doubt that I would not regret it. I just had to push through the shame and disappointment to say the words out loud. Once I had, every contraction while we waited for the anesthesiologist felt even more unbearable; the idea of relief was so alluring and I needed it NOW once I'd made the decision to ask for it. The anesthesiologist was very sweet and professional, and that bedside manner went a long way in helping me relax about it and accept my decision. I leaned forward and tried not to picture what he was doing in my back.

Once a delivery room opened up for me and I was being wheeled away, someone asked if I still needed my birth plan. Uh, yeah, please don't assume everything just got thrown out the window because I got an epidural! The anesthesiologist heard and, smiling sweetly, asked, "Was I in your birth plan?" He said it so gently that I knew he was really asking whether I felt like I'd betrayed myself already or whether I was accepting of my decision. No way would I have made him feel sorry for me by saying, "No, and I feel disappointed and ashamed at how NOT strong I am!" so I said, "Yes, you were there as 'if I ask for it,'" and I realized as I said it that it was true.

Finally being moved into a delivery room was anticlimactic now. I was restricted to the bed and my doula and wife were much more passively involved now because there just really wasn't much to do when I wasn't in agony. Seeing my doula almost kind of check out broke my heart, because it reminded me of how involved she would have been if I'd been able to have an unmedicated birth. We would have been walking around together, she would have been urging me into the shower or different positions, she would have helped my wife help me. She would have turned on soothing music. She would have snuck me a snack from my bag as I leaned over the bed on my own blanket that I'd brought from home. But instead, she sat there chatting with me and my wife and fighting sleep, waiting until she was needed and seeing me through. That singlehandedly made it sink in that my birth experience was now completely different than what I had expected and wanted.

At some point, the nurse on duty came in and said she would be starting Pitocin as per the doctor because my contractions had stopped. I felt panic, envisioning the "cascade of interventions" that would now follow. I knew it! This was part of why I hadn't wanted an epidural! Now it had stalled my labor and they would use Pitocin to get it going again and then baby would probably end up in distress and there I would go into a C-section, and couldn't I have just suffered through the back labor to avoid all this?? I was also confused because I was feeling the contractions! I choked back my fear and said, "How can she tell you to start Pitocin without even consulting with me first? I need to speak with her before you do anything." Then I sent my wife out to get our doula because I was afraid the doctor would steamroll me with jargon and I would end up consenting to something unnecessarily. But the doctor never came, and instead the nurse came back in and said she was to double check about the contractions. She adjusted the monitor and the contractions were once again registered on the screen. I was proud of myself for speaking up, but also pretty horrified that I would have been started on Pitocin that casually because of a slip of the monitor!

The next time that a wave of sadness hit me about the epidural was when someone told me I was in transition. I could feel each contraction, but very mildly, and no different from the contractions before. I had braced myself since our childbirth class for transition being the most painful part, and how I would push through knowing that it was also the shortest and that it meant I was almost there. I felt like I should be feeling something, enough to acknowledge transition. It felt wrong that I was coasting through it without feeling it.

Once I was fully dilated, I was told to push when my body told me to, but not before. They didn't want me to start pushing too soon because the baby was still high and I could use up all my energy pushing for so long. The pressure was intense, and when it was time to push, I couldn't imagine what this would feel like without an epidural! It was the most painful thing I'd ever felt. It felt like I had to poop out a bowling ball, and the bowling ball just stayed there even between contractions, miserably uncomfortable as I waited for the next wave. At a certain point, I felt like I had done so much pushing that the baby HAD to be in the birth canal. I just assumed the head was at least starting to come through my cervix. And then the doctor or someone told me, "You're doing great, the baby's coming a little lower!" A little lower??? You mean the baby isn't even close to my cervix yet and I still have to push it out? I felt so drained and exhausted and in pain, and I felt my pushing weaken after that with the prospect of still having so far to go. I felt so discouraged. I remember someone pointing out the sporadic cries of newborns down the hallway and attempting to use that to encourage me, and all I felt was bitterness that those women were done with this and I wasn't! I was too miserable to be able to think all those happy, peaceful thoughts about being closer to meeting my baby. I felt disconnected from my baby and just drowned in the bodily experience.

Soon I started feeling searing pain in my lower left side, so severe that I couldn't even focus on my pushing (which my body did with or without my help, as involuntarily as throwing up). I was crying out and saying, "I can't do this anymore!" and all kinds of other things that, even in the moment, made me think, "Wow, I sound so weak and whiny, I can't believe I'm that person." An anesthesiologist came in to adjust my epidural and I realized that the pain was in the location where I'd had my surgery just over a year ago to remove a 7cm ovarian cyst. The pain was in the exact spot, deep inside, just where I'd felt the pain from the cyst itself before its removal. All the pushing or something was making that spot flare up, which I found interesting and horrifying all at the same time, because what would I have done if I'd gone unmedicated and that had flared up during pushing? I guess I just would've had to get through it, but it was absolutely paralyzing! I couldn't even focus on the pushing and that pain and pressure because this pain was so sharp and severe. They turned me on my side so that they could direct the epidural medication toward that spot. I was told to take a break in that position while I let the medication take effect, and to let them know when I was ready for coached pushing again.

The period of spontaneous bearing down was very different from the coached pushing, and I'm honestly not sure which I prefer. I had put in my birth plan that I did not want to be coached and they did it anyway, but it felt helpful in the moment so I hadn't argued it. They went with my contractions, so it's when I had the urge to push anyway (I had pictured coached pushing being at arbitrary intervals when my body may not have felt the need to push), and it helped me get the most out of each one by doing it the way they encouraged me to. (Although my asthmatic lungs could only handle two rounds of breath-holding and they wanted three, so the third was almost always let go halfway through.) During the spontaneous pushing, I felt more alone and afraid. It was like something just took over my body and I was just trying to get through it, waiting for it to pass, like hanging over a toilet waiting for the next heave during a bad stomach bug. I didn't have the same support that I got in the coached pushing, and it felt more like something happening to me rather than a process I was participating in, and I felt really alone and shaken up. I certainly didn't expect that!

I'm not sure of the chronology of all this, but at some point toward the end of labor, my blood pressure skyrocketed to something like 257/190. My wife recalls feeling utterly panicked as staff flooded in chatting a mile a minute and hooking me up to magnesium, which brought it down. I barely registered any of this, and just whispered hopefully to my wife, "Maybe they'll do a C-section now because of my blood pressure. Maybe they'll just cut it out of me and this will all be over!" My wife says that's when she got really scared, because she knew I had to be in a bad place if I was asking for a C-section, which had been the number one outcome I'd been so determined to avoid if I safely could. She says the doula reassured her with words and the doctor with a wink and a smile.

I later learned that the baby turned the right way about an hour before she was born. So 16 out of my 17 hours of labor were back labor, but at least she wasn't born that way which would have been even more painful and drawn out.

I knew when she was getting close because a nurse started setting up tools down by my feet. I had a "holy shit!!" moment of realizing I was really about to have a baby, that this was really it.

I don't remember exactly what happened (and wasn't clear at the time, being in the state that I was) but somehow when it was actually time for her to be born and her head started moving down the birth canal, that happened faster than expected. I remember a nurse telling me to hold on and not push. Apparently that was so they could get the doctor rushed in because she was about to be born. At the time, I thought it was because she was moving too fast and they thought I would tear really badly or otherwise be more injured if I didn't slow down, so I listened and tried not to actively push. A nurse came over to unbutton my gown for skin-to-skin contact, and I felt a rush of intense excitement that this meant my baby would be on my chest within minutes! I remember my doula saying she could see the head and the baby had a lot of hair. My wife got excited then and went to look, which she had previously sworn she wouldn't do because she thought she would get sick! I heard my wife say excitedly, "I see the baby's head, Rach! It's right there!" I felt so encouraged knowing she was that close that I pushed harder than ever to move her the rest of the way down. They didn't even have time to push the table down under my feet so that the doctor could more easily deliver her, and she was born right on the table.

My wife announced the sex, checking several times because she had been so convinced we were having a boy. She said, "Rachel, guess what! We got our little girl!" I started crying and said, "Ellis, I knew it was you. I knew it was you!" I had started getting a gut feeling the last month or two that we were having a girl, and when a song came on the radio that made me feel my grandmother's presence so strongly that I cried on the way to a final OB appointment (her Hebrew name will honor my grandmother), I felt certain. I could hear my baby crying but couldn't see her past my legs. It felt like forever before they put her on my chest, and I just snuggled her and repeated over and over, "Hi, baby! Hi, baby girl, I knew it was you! Oh Ellis, I love you so much! You're here, you're here!" She calmed down pretty quickly, comforted by our voices and my smell and the warmth of my skin, and she reached a hand out and grasped my nipple tightly. Soon I started nudging her over to it, and she immediately latched on as soon as she felt it, less than an hour after being born. All my fears of breastfeeding obstacles went out the window, and I knew we could do this together.

Because this took me two months to finish and is so long already, I'll write a separate post about the rest of our hospital stay and our early days at home.

Life with Baby - Quick Catch-Up

I've been working on my birth story for the past six of her seven weeks of life, if that says anything. She keeps me so busy! We welcomed our sweet daughter Ellis on May 22 after 17 hours of labor, 16 of which were unexpectedly back labor. It was rough. Hopefully that story is coming soon.

But while trying to get that all together, I don't want to miss all the other sweet details that I want to remember later. There are so many little quirks unique to her that melt me every time, and yet those will disappear or change so quickly as she grows.

I want to remember forever:

  • The little panting breathing noise she makes right up by my ear as she roots for a breast when I take her back from the changing table to the living room after a nap. She did that a lot early on and less so now because now she knows my breast isn't there (though I can always check to see if she's hungry by going to kiss her mouth, because she'll always open her mouth at the touch of mine if she is and otherwise won't). But I can still hear those breaths when I carry her around and will miss it when her breathing is more regulated.
  • She glowers at me when I talk to her and smile while she's nursing. The little eyebrows narrow, she pauses, and then she sucks furiously. It's hysterical. Only once, today, she started smiling herself, so hard that she lost her latch and then started cooing at me.
  • When she starts to get upset, her arm tells you first. Her hand is clenched into a fist but with one pinky finger extended and she starts to crank up her whole arm. My mom calls it "the arm of doom" and knows it's time for us to end a FaceTime call when it starts flailing across the screen. In her first weeks, it sent me into a panic, knowing the wailing that was about to begin if I didn't figure out and meet her need STAT! Now it melts a piece of my heart and I can't help but smile or even tease her a little as I respond to her. "Oh the baby has a wet diaper, who could have let that happen! Oh the trauma!!" I coo as I smile and scoop her up and smother her with kisses before changing her.
  • She elicits a mom-voice from me that I didn't know I had in me! The weirdest things. When she has a big poo or something, I'll say, "Oh my boodness!!" Why would I replace the "g" in goodness with a "b"?  So random and odd and there is absolutely no rationale behind it. It just happened. Also I call her "the baby" all the time. "Does the baby need a bath? Let's clean that baby." "Oh the baby's so hungry! Oh let me feed that little baby!" Or when she sneezes: "God bless the baby, and all the little babies of the world!" Who is this person she's turned me into?!?
  • The infant Moro (startle) reflex always happens when I lay her on the changing table. She raises both arms over her head and clenches her fists and they kind of shake with the tension in her arms, and I say "Power to the babies!!!" Every. Time. 
  • She has this gyrating suckle that I just adore. Her nursing goes something like this: Suck. Suck. Suck. Suck. Suck. Pause. Sucksucksucksucksuck suck..suck...suck. It's so fast that I can't even imitate it with my mouth. It tickles me so much, and I actually feel sad and strangely betrayed when I see her do that fast suck with a pacifier.
  • Sometimes when she's nursing to sleep, she kind of sighs and raises her eyebrows and nuzzles her head back and forth. When she's fussing and is just hungry and sleepy and she finally gets the breast, her eyes roll to the back of her head and then close right as she latches. She's like a little druggie getting her fix. I can practically hear her saying, "Ohhhh yeah, Mom, that's the stuff." It's an incredible feeling to be able to have that effect on this little creature.
For the record, it took me a week to even get around to finishing THIS post. This does not bode well for my writing outlet.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Ready to Meet You!!!!

Friday was supposed to be my last day at work, but I started feeling random sharp pains Thursday around 5:30 so I didn't go in the next day. I was afraid of having that progress while at work or going into full-on labor in the Bronx, over an hour from home. But it faded during the day Friday, returning Friday night and alternating with cramping. Then nothing most of Saturday except off-and-on intense pressure on my cervix. Same Sunday. I kept thinking labor might be imminent, and then nothing! But my sister pointed out that my body is preparing in a smart way - starting to get ready, and then relaxing so I can rest. Working its way up to the big task ahead. So I've let myself enjoy the sloooow lead-up, appreciating that at least something is happening to let me know my body is progressing.

Yesterday (Monday) was my due date. As planned, my mother and I celebrated by getting pedicures and lunch before going for the 40-week sonogram. The sonogram showed everything to be healthy and well. A week earlier, I had gone in for my weekly appointment and the doctor had said that if I hadn't gone into labor by my due date, we would schedule induction. I really don't want to be induced, on a practical level because it will make it more difficult to fulfill my wishes for an unmedicated vaginal birth and on an emotional level because I want to have "my story" about how it happened when I went into labor rather than memories of being hooked up to an IV. If there's a valid reason to be induced, then okay, but I don't want it taken lightly. I asked her if there was any way to avoid induction, and the doctor said she would give me a week after my due date if everything looked good with the gestational diabetes.

So yesterday, she said, "I remember that you don't want to be induced. Your sonogram still looks really good, fluid levels are good, and your sugar numbers are good, so I could let you wait until 41 and a half weeks. How does that sound?" Knowing that it's medically unsafe to let a baby go past 42, I thought that sounded quite reasonable, and I felt relieved that she remembered my reservations about induction, respected it, and brought it up herself with some flexibility. Then she did the cervical check and said, "You're over 2cm dilated and your cervix is stretched really, really thin. We'll schedule a sonogram for Friday, but I honestly don't see you making it that long." This made sense with what I've been feeling. I feel so much pressure that, even sitting, it can make me gasp and shift around in pain when the baby is moving. It feels like the baby is pushing right up against my cervix but just can't get out because it's not open enough.

The house finally feels ready, and now that I'm off work, I feel relaxed and mentally and emotionally ready. Instead of rushing around and trying to finish things up, I'm now just sitting and waiting. That impatience is so much better than the panic of "But wait, there's still so much to do!!!" I feel like I'm open and ready and waiting for this baby to come when it's ready, and that's a welcome feeling. Though the delicious torture of anticipation is very difficult!

Sunday, May 10, 2015


Baby preparation has been utterly overwhelming in the past few weeks. I've barely had time or energy to stop, think, feel, let alone write. It seems like we were coasting for a while and then suddenly had a deadline racing toward us (but an ambiguous one, which makes it even more stressful!). I feel disorganized, unfinished. stressed.

We finally put the nursery together two weekends ago. At 37 weeks pregnant, it was pushing it in my opinion, but we just kept not getting around to it. I felt great relief when the crib and dresser were put together and in place, and I was able to start washing baby clothes and bedding and set up the room. That relief was short-lived when I realized how much still needed to happen: putting together the changing table for downstairs, setting up both diaper stations, hanging things in the nursery, sorting out what toys and items we need right away versus which are for older ages and can stay stored in the basement a while longer, realizing we needed more bins and ways to store these items, trying to figure out how we re-arrange our own overflowing stuff in this cramped space so that we can fit in baby's stuff (WHERE WILL ALL THE BATH THINGS GO), figuring out where the litter box goes because we don't want it in our room where baby will be sleeping for a while and breathing it in yet we have no other good places, reorganizing the basement which we had just made into a beautiful guest area and now looks like a crazy storage zone after our baby shower, getting a carseat check which is apparently booked up at EVERY LOCATION until mid-June and then panicking about how well we were possibly figuring it out on our own, practicing buckling in a teddy bear, watching the infant CPR DVD my sister lent us, watching Happiest Baby on the Block my doula recommended and my parents had actually gotten us before we conceived, putting the cloth diapers through the mandatory five wash cycles (even though we don't need them right away, I won't be focused on that the first few weeks postpartum), putting finishing touches on the hospital bag so that we have everything we need, making sure we know what to do with the cord blood kit (free processing by the bank owned by our sperm bank so we just have to pay for the kit and shipping, $320!), waiting for our living room furniture which was supposed to be here in 3-5 weeks and the 5 week point just passed this weekend and WE HAVE NOTHING, bringing up the cradle from the basement and figuring out somewhere for it to go on the main level as a napping zone because we have no room upstairs, learning at 38 weeks that the glider that was going to be handed down to us no longer is and we now have nowhere upstairs (which is just bedrooms) to rock a fussy baby in the middle of the night until we figure out a new plan, choosing a mohel in case we have a boy, booking a newborn photographer, booking a maternity session which now at 39 weeks I'm just trying accept isn't going to happen.

On top of this, I have a stack of about fifteen pregnancy and childbirth books - most handed down and a few bought that I was really interested in - that I've barely touched in the "third trimester and birth" sections and feel super guilty about, like I'm not informing myself enough and not making use of these resources And my doula spent time teaching us all these exercises for keeping baby in optimal position and sent us a video for a routine that will help prepare my body for labor and I bought two prenatal yoga DVDs at 36 weeks so that I could relax and prepare my body in the last month, and I've had time for NONE OF THIS. Or maybe I don't MAKE time for it. I get home late from work, cook, feel exhausted, and just want to relax with TV the last couple of hours. If I have energy or time to do something more, it's one of the million tasks listed above (of which I've currently completed about 5%) and certainly not the self-care I claim to value so much, the ways I can soothe and prepare my body for labor and read and prepare myself mentally for it. Those get pushed to the wayside.

I broke down to my wife today and she was such an amazing support. Generally she is the one stressing about how the house looks and the tasks ahead, and it can make her irritable and snippy and unpleasant to be around. This time it's me, pregnancy-induced as it may be, and it helps me empathize with her because I can't imagine feeling like this about life all the time! I had gone upstairs to change into pajamas before she shut the lights to go to bed, and when I went to the bathroom, she called out, "Are you okay?" She really meant physically, because she's been worried about my exhaustion and near-constant Braxton Hicks (after only having like five ever in my pregnancy until the past week) and sudden inability to do much after making it 37 weeks being quite limber and active and comfortable. But I just said, "Cranky. I feel cranky and irritable and that's not like me. I don't like feeling this way. Is it okay that I'm feeling this way?" And she came out of the bedroom to meet me in the hall and hug me and said, "Of course it's okay, you're 39 weeks pregnant! Be cranky! What's bothering you?" And I went into all of the above. I love my wife to death, but she is not generally known to know the right things to say or to be the strong one in our relationship. But boy did that kick in when she saw I needed it, that I was the one who needed a rock this time. She reassured me while also not minimizing my stress, and gave realistic solutions to almost everything I said. Most of which were, "I'll take care of that this week/when I come home for a shower and to feed the cats while you're at the hospital/with Dad in the first few days after baby. It'll be okay and I'll take care of it. You don't need to worry about anything."

I'm so, so, so excited and ready for this baby to join our lives. We both can barely stand the excitement. I love seeing my wife kissing and talking to my abdomen, saying, "Come let us meet you, we love you and miss you!!!" And yet the pressure of feeling my home, my nest, isn't ready is killing me. I'd like to write about the incredible baby shower our families threw for us, and the one my coworkers threw for me that incorporated so much about my personality and preferences and current dietary restrictions that I felt so known and loved. I'd like to write about the excitement of our temple community who are on the edge of their seats, waiting for the Friday night they DON'T see us and know it's time, checking in with us excitedly and happily every week. I'd like to write about the snuggly moments in bed with my wife and our baby-to-be nudging against her hand when she talks to it, moving around at the inflections in my wife's voice as she reads to our friends' two-year-old daughter, dancing as it listens to us singing to the radio (so much more active when we're singing along than when we're not). I'd like to write about finding a mohel, and my anxiety regarding circumcision despite my certainty about our decision. I'd like to write about the experience of working with our doula and all the amazing empowerment and support that has provided us already. But my head is swarming with tasks, to-do's, unfinished business, and I went over a month not processing anything here. Losing those moments that I would love to be able to relive in ten or twenty years through my descriptive writing. Losing the opportunity to revel in them and think through them in the way that only writing can help me do.

Is this what parenting will be like too? Will it feel like frantic chaos that I'm constantly lagging behind in preparations for? Will I always be stressing about the next thing I need to do, or the things I should have done but haven't? Or is this pregnancy-induced panic that is part of trying to prepare for something that is about to turn our world upside down, and then after the birth, I will let go of some of this need for perfection and just start enjoying it and realizing I have everything I need? I'm hoping the latter, because this way of feeling and being is out of character for me. I'm glad it didn't take over until the end and that I got to fully enjoy and revel in pregnancy for the vast majority of this journey. Now I need to let my wife be my rock, allow and trust her to lighten my load, and try to stay focused and calm on the transformative experience right around the corner.

Monday, April 20, 2015

The Motherhood of Sisterhood

Late last year, somewhere in my second trimester of pregnancy, a pregnant panhandler came through my subway car. She was farther along than myself, looked to be in her third trimester, and she was in pretty rough shape.  She asked for food or money, and my heart just broke. Homeless people are always hard on my heart, but seeing this woman down and out while her body was creating a life just ripped at my every seam. I gave her a snack from my bag and she thanked me profusely while I tried to brush it off as no big deal.

She may not have even been able to tell I was pregnant in my coat, but I was painfully aware of our shared truth. We are both insatiably hungry while our bodies are undergoing total transformation, building new bodies. But I can pack snacks in my bag for the day to help stave off the hunger and cravings, and tonight I will go home to my house and my supportive wife. My friends and family will throw me a baby shower to help me get the things I need for this baby. They will ensure this baby is never in need, and if they didn’t, we have steady jobs and would still somehow be able to figure it out for ourselves. We are safe and warm at night. We can prepare for our child.

Who helped you make this baby and where are they now? Did you even feel you had a choice, or are you just left to deal with the consequences of someone else’s choice? Where are you sleeping tonight? What fears and anxieties keep you up at night as you feel your due date looming closer and have no one to turn to for help and advice? Do you worry that your child will be taken from you because you can’t provide proper care? Do you worry that your child WON’T be taken from you and you will spend every moment frantically trying to prepare for the next, worrying about how to keep your child safe and thriving? How do you protect yourself and stay safe as you become increasingly more vulnerable? Who helps you when your back and hips are aching so much you feel you can’t walk one more step, and yet gathering another few quarters makes the difference in whether you can eat tonight? I wanted to cry and scream at the injustice of the world, and also take her home and let her run a hot bath and elevate her swollen feet and be able to feel the wonder of the creation within her instead of the exhaustion and anxiety and loneliness I saw weighing her down.

Then a week or so ago, as spring finally turned the corner (how far away my spring baby seemed when winter was only just approaching!), I saw a fat squirrel sitting on a tree branch. In unspoken agreement, my wife and I always sit still in the car when we pull into our driveway and see cardinals in the backyard. This time there were a male and a female bouncing around from branch to fencepost to bush, and we watched them until they finally flew off. Then I noticed the squirrel on the branch of our tree, contentedly eating a nut. I was initially surprised at its rotundity after a long, harsh winter, and then after a few seconds it hit me that she wasn’t fat, she was pregnant! It seemed like a logical conclusion at this time of the year, and I just watched her in awe. I wondered if this was her first pregnancy and if she knew what was going on. Did she feel extra hungry and thirsty and tired? Did she start to notice more and more strange stirrings and squirming in her abdomen and wonder what the heck was going on? Or does she just go through life unblinking and not pay much attention to these changes when she’s just trying to survive each moment, focusing on finding food and safety? She’s so strong - she just goes through her pregnancy finding the next nut, lugging her heavy body up the tree. She can’t play the pregnancy card. Other squirrels don’t encourage her to just relax in the grass while they watch for predators or offer to fetch her an acorn. She’s just gotta keep going! She doesn’t know any different, and those male squirrels have no clue what she’s quietly enduring in order to propagate the species.

Pregnancy is the first nearly universal condition that has made me feel so connected to beings across demographics and even species. I wonder about the teen mothers I work with, both the reluctant and the intentional. I wonder about the experiences of people older than me, like my mother, my wife’s grandmother, and my rabbi (who adopted, but who I imagine experienced similar planning, anticipation, fear and excitement, and impatience waiting for her daughter to join their family). I feel so connected to all of these mothers, and also so curious about how different their outer experiences are or were within their own contexts despite the fact that exactly the same thing was happening inside each of us. Sometimes this breaks my heart and sometimes this lifts and moves me, but I’m always grateful for the connection.

Pregnancy Guilt

(Written in December 2014 for
After four failed cycles of intrauterine insemination, my wife and I conceived a few months ago. We’re elated, but during the time leading up to our pregnancy, we faced much uncertainty and anxiety. Before beginning insemination, I was tested for every possible fertility barrier and all of the test results were negative. This was a mixed blessing, since my insurance would have covered the $1900 per cycle process fully if I’d had even the slightest issue. But of course I was grateful for my health.
That was an incredibly difficult time, when hopes rose and fell. For support, we reached out to family and friends as well as our dear rabbi, who witnessed many tears and helped comfort and encourage us.
We also reached out to a couple of friends who, like us, were experiencing difficulty conceiving. We bonded intensely during that period, because we got each other. When a very close friend of mine became pregnant immediately, we struggled as we watched her abdomen grow every month and felt envious– like that’s where we should be too. With our friends who also faced difficulties conceiving, we were able to commiserate, share stories, and vent about our hurt.
And then we did get pregnant, and suddenly we were the ones struggling to figure out how to tell our friends who hadn’t yet conceived.
(Read the rest at the link below)

Thursday, April 2, 2015

All the Sugar

Before the fertility clinic would proceed with our first cycle, they sent me for a one-hour glucose tolerance test to screen for prediabetes, due to my bloodwork having shown that my blood sugar levels are slightly elevated. I passed the test and all was well. When I had to take the same test around 29 weeks gestation, I did not pass and was referred for the three-hour test. I had read that many people who fail the one-hour pass the three-hour because many people’s bodies just need that little extra time to handle the sugar. Many people in my personal life confirmed this, telling me that they’d failed the one-hour also but then had been fine. So I went in pretty optimistic. I drank the nasty, syrupy drink and then, ravenous, sat and read a book while getting blood drawn every hour. The phlebotomist asked with each blood draw if I was feeling okay, and since I was, that also made me optimistic.

I was a little anxious anyway, just because I know I’m genetically predisposed to diabetes and have already had signs of insulin resistance since high school (rough, scaly dark patches of skin in my armpits and under my belly; some skin tags; cellulitis at 20 years old which took doctors forever to diagnose because it’s usually only seen in elderly, obese diabetics), but after hearing even my own mother and sister say they passed the three-hour, I kept talking myself down and convincing myself that I really probably didn’t have it. Then I got the call from my OB’s office saying my results were “abnormal” and I needed to call an endocrinologist RIGHT AWAY to schedule an appointment.

Heart in my mouth, I called the one they recommended who took my insurance and set up an appointment for the following day. The doctor was very warm and friendly. He showed me my results from the three-hour test, showing what levels are normal at each hour and how high mine stayed throughout. He asked me about various symptoms (excessive hunger and thirst, how many times I pee in a night, etc.), family history, etc. He explained why this can happen in pregnancy, and that since the placenta is the source of the issue, it will go away as soon as the placenta is delivered, but for now may worsen as the placenta grows. He said the baby is not harmed, but that the baby is overmaking its own insulin to counteract the high blood sugar flowing into it, and that high insulin can lead to too much growth and complicate delivery if the baby gets too big. Having the baby’s pancreas on overdrive throughout gestation can also increase baby’s risk of developing diabetes and childhood obesity later in life, so it’s important to regulate my own blood sugar so the baby doesn’t have to overcompensate for me.

Then he talked to me about diet change and handed me a whole packet with recommendations for meals and snacks, what I can have in unlimited quantities, what I can have in moderation, and what I can NEVER EVER have. Some of the never evers really surprised me – I mean bananas, really?? The “bad” things that I craved and had been indulging in freely were on that list, as well as some things I thought were really healthy for me (like watermelon and grapes).

He showed me my target range and what numbers should worry me. He told me to stick to this diet and test my blood sugar fasting and then an hour after every meal, fax in the results every few days, and then come back in a week to evaluate. If the numbers were concerning in that first couple of days, like my blood sugar was out of normal range even with diet changes, then I would need insulin and have to come back in immediately for that. He offered to show me how to do it then and send me home with some supplies so that I wouldn’t have to come back in so soon if that happened, but said it was my choice. I said, “No thank you, I’m feeling utterly overwhelmed as it is and would rather not have to learn injections on top of it when I may not even need them. I’ll come back in if I have to.” He told me to keep fat in my diet because now is not the time to be losing weight. Then a nurse came in to show me how to use the glucose monitor, which looked intimidatingly complicated at first use.

I didn’t even make it to the car before tears were streaming down my face. I felt utterly overwhelmed at all that was in front of me – having to plan every meal and snack, having to avoid so many things I love and just am not sure how to replace at meals, figuring out the glucose monitor and remembering to take my blood and log my food choices after every meal. And I felt overwhelming guilt at my poor diet up to that point and how my baby had been having to work its poor little pancreas to death to try to make up for it. It didn’t matter that this was coming for me no matter what, and that people get it no matter how they were eating before and during pregnancy. It didn’t matter that baby was fine and not being harmed right now. I couldn’t stop blaming myself for not doing enough to protect my baby and keep it as safe and healthy as possible. I’ve struggled with willpower when it comes to food my whole life, and all I could think was that even my baby hadn’t been enough for me to change that, and how shameful that feels. I felt anxious and overwhelmed by the path ahead of me, the major diet overhaul and monitoring, and then ashamed that it felt so difficult. I called my mom to get it all out of my system, and then faced the challenge of figuring out where to go for lunch that wouldn’t make my first blood sugar check be elevated. (I chose Chipotle: brown rice, grilled chicken, tomatoes, guacamole – all approved items.)

As I sat at home and tried to remember all the steps for using the glucose monitor, stuck myself multiple times trying to figure out how to take the needle back out, and then tried to plan what I could eat the rest of the day and the next day at work, I let myself shed a few tears of frustration and then told myself that I would be a master in no time. This was all new and a lot to learn and figure out at once, but soon it would become routine. It just felt so unsettling to have everything in my daily life have to be looked at and managed differently, and to not be exactly sure how yet. Feeling incompetent is my quickest route to frustration and tears, and my instinct is to quit immediately (usually when it's something like assembling a product), but I couldn't with this. And I told myself, "You're going to feel this times a hundred when you're suddenly responsible for the care of a newborn, so you'd better humble yourself and get use to feeling this way and still functioning through it to get the job done."

My numbers were stable with the diet change so I didn’t need to come back in for insulin. This was and is my main motivator to sticking to the diet strictly, because I desperately want to avoid injections. I’m grateful that, while my body is clearly very sensitive to sugar (I’ve seen it spike just going from half to a whole wheat English muffin in the morning), limiting that has been enough to keep it under control. My fasting numbers are good, which they look at closely because blood sugar spikes overnight and is the highest in the morning, so some people wake up with high blood sugar no matter what they eat during the day and need at least nighttime insulin. Meeting with the dietician has been helpful, teaching me things like which foods equal how much of a serving of starch, how to pair a starch with a protein at every snack or meal (apple with string cheese, plain yogurt with blueberries) because the protein helps my body process the sugar, how to split up my breakfast (NO fruit in the morning when your blood sugar is most sensitive) into two small meals so that I stay satisfied without sending my sugar overboard, how to watch my patterns and what sets me off and what doesn’t so that I can find what works for me (“I hate telling a pregnant woman that any fruit is completely off limits – have a small banana and then check your sugar, it’s about what YOUR body can handle”).

I lost four pounds the first week. Actually, within the first four or five days. I was at a 13 pound total gain and went down to 9. I couldn’t eat enough butter, full-fat dairy, and nuts to keep my weight from going down. I called my OB’s office out of concern, and the nurse said that she was surprised the endocrinologist said not to lose weight because it’s impossible not to with such a diet overhaul, but that it’s only my own weight and I should just be focused on making sure I’m getting proper nutrition. She said as long as the baby’s weight is on target, they’re not worried about mine dropping. At our 32-week sonogram the next week, the OB confirmed that baby’s weight was perfect, exactly average, and that I didn’t need to be worried about my own. I stayed stable at this new weight for many days, and then slowly started gaining again, and I’m now up to 11 pounds total gain.

My wife has gone on this diet with me. I did not ask for that, and in fact told her just not to eat things I love right in front of me (cakes, ice cream) but that she could do it behind my back and not tell me, just so I’m not tortured. And she could eat anything she likes that DOESN’T torment me (chips, hard candies). But she insisted that this is how we both should be eating and that she knows she is predisposed to diabetes too, so why not use this as our wake-up call to being healthier? She doesn’t have to be as picky with planned out snacks or about having fruit in the morning, but she’s made her own diet overhaul. She measures her starches at dinner and has the same amount I do, and has cut down on how often she snacks and the portion size of her snacks. She’s been losing weight too!

At my second dietician counseling yesterday, we were going over my charts and she asked if she could keep the most recent week’s. I had an immediate reaction that made me want to say, “No, it’s mine!” and I had to figure out where that came from and how to explain it rationally to her. I said, “I’d like to keep the originals. I have all the rest of them and it just helps me look at my own patterns.” So she made a copy for herself and gave it back. She had told me earlier in the meeting to keep trying to fatten myself up, to make sure I’m getting enough nutritious calories in, and said I could make my breakfast more filling by having a whole light wheat English muffin instead of a half. I’d had to go back a few weeks to show her where I had tried that and my sugar had gone right over. Clearly I can’t do that! But that reference point is important to me. It’s important that I could look back at all the times whole wheat pasta has been fine for me, and try to figure out why the fresh whole wheat fettucini made me go over that one day, and then realize that I’d used store-made Bolognese sauce instead of our own homemade sauce, which the dietician pointed out usually has starch in it to thicken it. I’m not just tracking numbers for a doctor to look at and approve or disapprove. I’m learning my body and foods that are problems for me and foods that work for me and how much I can tolerate of different things. I want control over that, because this is for me.