Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Our Breastfeeding Journey

By the time I went into labor, I was both very anxious and very prepared and informed about breastfeeding. It seemed like everyone I knew had had difficulty. You don't hear often about successful breastfeeding experiences, at least in my observation. I kept hearing stories about problems with latching, problems with supply, problems with pain. People would ask me if I planned to breastfeed, and when I said yes, I got unintentional discouragement instead of support, in the form of comments like, "Well make sure you get bottles and formula samples just in case it doesn't work out for you." I took a breastfeeding class and read The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding which is put out by La Leche League, and I found a local support group on social media where I knew I could ask questions or express concerns postpartum and get support.

It all paid off, plus I had a bit of luck. I was able to have skin-to-skin for a glorious four hours after a vaginal delivery, which gave me a great head start. Ellis lay across my chest and her fist closed reflexively around one nipple as she lay in the flat area between my breasts. When she seemed to be wiggling and searching, I moved her over to help her find my nipple with her mouth, and she latched immediately. This was less than an hour after birth, and my heart soared. I knew we would be okay.

During my hospital stay, however, I encountered some discouraging setbacks. Several times she would be crying and trying to latch but couldn't. I knew she was capable of latching so I didn't understand why she wasn't. She would gum and tongue at my nipple but not latch, and her head would shake violently from side to side as she got more frustrated and then she would scream and cry. I was a wreck trying to figure out what was wrong. 

With the help of a lactation consultant and our own observations, we figured out that she couldn't focus enough to latch if anything else was bothering her. She would be hungry and would want to but just couldn't. Sometimes that was as easy as checking her diaper (she had NO tolerance for wet diapers the first few weeks when that was such a new feeling to her), but other times it was gas bothering her, which would take us a while to figure out and which we couldn't always help her with. 

As I'd learned should be done, I offered it to her anytime she was awake, and she was at my breast round the clock. With all that suckling my milk came in at two days out of the two to five day timeframe I'd been warned of. I was so grateful, because no matter what I was told, I couldn't imagine drops of colostrum being enough to satisfy her for five whole days! 

The first night I was home from the hospital, I noticed a difference during a 2AM feeding. It seemed like she was swallowing more or differently, and after she unlatched, I touched the drop that leaked from my breast and noticed it was white. Milk!! It was the best feeling to know she was getting that. I couldn't help but wonder what that change was like for her, having only experienced the little bits of colostrum and now suddenly having milk flowing. I woke up the next morning engorged. I resisted the urge to pump (in hindsight, I could have pumped just a little for relief - but to be honest I was intimidated by the pump and afraid to try it for the first couple of weeks) and just kept offering it to her. It was so painful, and strange to see my typically small, flaccid breasts so big and full and hard.

The nipple pain started about a day into nursing and I kept receiving conflicting information. I would read or hear that it's normal until your nipples "toughen up," and then I would read or hear that it should never hurt and that means the latch isn't right. I didn't know what to believe, but I felt like she was latched well so I just tried to power through. I used cooling gel pads and nipple butter to ease the sting. Sometimes my nipples even cracked and scabbed, and then the scab would come off when she next nursed and be even more raw and sore. So painful! Just when I thought maybe I should call a lactation consultant, the pain eased up, about a week in. So now I think that was truly my nipples getting used to so much action. Now I barely feel it, it's such a gentle tugging that I can even sleep through it after pulling her into bed late at night.

Initially the lamp went on as I fumbled with her diaper and then went to the rocker to set up my nursing pillow and feed her. I would struggle to stay awake for the 30-40 minutes, often snapping my head up after realizing I was falling asleep over her. Within a few weeks, I got more comfortable and was able to change her diaper by nightlight without having to light up the whole room, and then would nurse her sidelying in bed. I would fall asleep and then put her back in the bassinet at whatever point I woke up.

My first real moment of pride came when I had to nurse her in public unexpectedly. We were at the pediatrician's office when she was just four days old. Then and to this day, she loves being out and seeing new places and people, so she was overall very alert and content. But she started to fuss and I knew she must be hungry. I had a moment of panic because I didn't have my home setup and my nursing pillow. But I sat down and held her up to me and fed her while the doctor spoke. It was such a rush and so good for my self-confidence as a new nursing mother to know I had it down enough to be able to meet that need spontaneously. It was an empowering realization that I could keep my baby alive and nourish her no matter what the environment. I'll never forget that feeling!

I knew I would love breastfeeding, but I had no idea how I would LOVE breastfeeding! It's one of my absolute favorite parts of being a new mother. That oxytocin is powerful stuff, and I feel so in love with Ellis every time. I don't want her to ever stop! In the beginning, when she wasn't quite connecting that her food source and her mother were the same entity, she would catch me gazing at her and pause, narrowing her eyebrows in an epic glower at me, and then resume sucking fiercely. Like, "Hey, I know you're warmth and safety but am still not REALLY sure who or what you are, and I'm not sure if I trust you hanging over me while I'm eating and seeking comfort." Then this evolved into her catching my gaze and grinning so hard that she unlatches and then coos softly at me. Melt my HEART! She also now pets my skin with one hand back and forth while she nurses to sleep. Or while awake and alert, she just flails it around, sometimes grabbing my face, while her top leg kicks and flails around. And when we're nursing in bed sidelying, I feel her leg kicking up and down against my leg and I just die. It's like the biggest rush, like absolutely falling in love every time.

 figuring it out in the hospital - she was a natural!

 my first time sidelying in bed - lifechanging!

 at Target - one of the biggest surprises for me was how little I care about public breastfeeding

 one of six images from a $15 breastfeeding photo session by a local photographer - something I will never regret having!

 learning how to nurse while babywearing was a game changer

 the most comfortable and natural position for both of us - just laying back with her against me

that skeptical look from the early days

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Don't Blink!

I want to write a post about our breastfeeding journey and also one about our first months with baby. And maybe one about the struggle it has been coparenting with opposite approaches to and perspectives on so many things. But I seem to never have time to write now, so in the meantime I want to write another quick catch-up like I did two months ago so I can remember the little things later.

  • Ellis learned how to make a gargling sound between two and three months old and was so proud of herself. She would make this gargling at the back of her throat with a huge grin and then practically turn inside out with smiles as we responded to her. This was her primary way to communicate with us when happy, and we would go back and forth with her endlessly. It only lasted maybe a month. Now she vocalizes in a way that sounds like "ohhhhhhhhh" and she doesn't do it interactively as much, mostly just to get our attention or just to make sounds and try out her voice. I so miss the gargling!
  • Ellis also learned how to screech. She could make this shrill, ear-piercing shriek that startled the cats until they got used to it! She sometimes replaced other fussing noises (like whimpering and un-distressed crying) with this screech. Or used it when excited. Or used it when frustrated or bored or lonely. It was usually used to call our attention to her when she needed something. She still does this, but it has dropped off in the past week. 
  • She found her feet while sitting in Grampa's lap on a family vacation to Myrtle beach. She had just turned three months. She looked at them in total fascination, and it was awesome to watch. Now she grabs at them at almost every diaper change, and I just don't get tired of watching her discover and enjoy her own body!
  • She loves physical play. She can entertain herself for a little while in the activity gym, and can sometimes listen to a book even though she's a bit young to really focus on it, but what she never tires of is airplane, tickling, nuzzling.
  • She loves being out, and being worn. She doesn't mind the stroller (she hated it as a newborn, but that's not a surprise at that stage of development) but she really loves the view she gets from my chest and being able to see the world while feeling my warmth and smelling me and being able to nuzzle into me when overstimulated, even for a few seconds. I'm dreading the cold weather because walks with her have saved us from many a fussy moment!
This post is disappointingly brief to me. It feels like a skimming over of our life and like so many moments are not captured. But it's all I can manage right now. She slept terribly all day today (a total of an hour and a half compared to her usual four to five hours!) and gets up around 6 AM and it's already 10;15 and I still have to finish a load of laundry and try to get upstairs before she wakes to eat. And this is how it happens! 

Friday, September 4, 2015

First Three Months

I'm writing about a quarter of a year at once. So not my pre-baby writing frequency! Argh. My laptop hardly ever comes out anymore.

The first few days at home were so peaceful compared to what we'd dealt with at the hospital all weekend. My mother stayed with us for two weeks and my wife was off of work those same two weeks. We were a great team. My wife cooked dinners when we didn't have any from kind friends and family. She went out to the stores to get anything we needed. My mother helped with laundry and dishes and watched the baby so I could get in a nap, just calling me if she woke and needed to eat. Ellis slept most of the time, and in those first few days would sleep wherever I put her. So I did a lot of what I used to do. I went on my computer, I called friends at work because I missed my old normal, and even checked some work emails. But having time for all that was very short-lived.

I had a really hard time with my "normal" being totally upended. It just seemed to happen so fast. I had just been sitting around in my usual environment, calm and even bored that first week of my maternity leave that started on my due date, and now baby stuff was everywhere and I felt emotionally and mentally and physically exhausted and I could never clock out of this job and everyone at my OLD job was going on without me and I couldn't leave the house and my nipples hurt and I was "on call" all night long, falling asleep in the rocker while hanging over my nursing baby. I vividly recall how strange I felt, how everything around me felt strange. It was like this wasn't my home anymore, and this wasn't my life, and I was in some strange reality that I couldn't get out of. I would freak out and melt down and cry, telling my mom and wife about these feelings and texting with my sister and my best friend. I was very open with what I was going through because I was even more afraid of being isolated in these feelings. Dealing with very little sleep made my emotions particularly raw and made it much more difficult to cope.

That started to pass after about a week, and I got into our routine. But our routine was rough. Ellis had seemed so laidback in the hospital. She only fussed when something was wrong, and we seemed to be able to figure that out pretty quickly and then she was okay. Now she seemed to be fussing more often than not, and we couldn't figure out why or how to help her. When she fell asleep, I lived in fear of her waking back up. We had nursing down pat, but if that didn't help her, I was at a loss as to what else to do. Nothing else seemed to come naturally.

Nights were the hardest. Every evening we spent hours and hours trying to get her to bed, walking her up and down the block as she screamed and wailed because being outside soothed her a bit, but then she'd become agitated again once she came in. We followed what we'd read about helping babies distinguish night from day. We gave her a routine and kept our room dark and quiet at night. When she'd be awake from, say, 2:30-4:00AM, I wouldn't play with her, but would just hold her and be with her so she would learn nighttime wasn't play time. I've also read that breastmilk helps them make this adjustment more quickly because your milk at night is different and the same hormones that help you sleep helps the baby sleep. She figured out night from day pretty quickly, but was awake at least every hour or so. She was very sensitive to wet diapers and would scream the second she felt it. She was hungry all the time. She had gas and couldn't figure out how to pass it.

It's all such a blur now, I know we felt closer than ever the first two weeks when my wife was home. We'd be up in the middle of the night together trying to soothe Ellis and get her back to sleep, and we felt like such a team after any success. I know our relationship suffered for a while after my wife went back to work so soon; I was home alone ready to pull my hair out or jump out a window, while she started dreading coming home because she missed any of Ellis's good time during the day and just got there in time to experience the evening hell. It took a toll on us, and we started developing different ideas of how we should respond to her. We couldn't agree on it, and ultimately my preferences trumped hers because I was the one home dealing with her all day, and I couldn't do that 24/7 in a way that didn't feel right to me. So my wife got on board reluctantly because she didn't want us to send Ellis mixed messages, and we found ways to compromise where possible.

Ellis wanted to be held all the time, and I loved this most of the time until it made other things more difficult. I loved spending my day with her sleeping on my chest; it helped re-solidify our bond after hours of my nerves being utterly frayed. But when I wanted to shower or throw in a load of laundry, it was very difficult. She would scream the second I put her down and I felt guilty that I was home all day but unable to get much done, and that my wife would have to come home from a long day at work to a screaming baby, a crying wife, a messy house, and no dinner.

All of this passed, and more quickly than I'd dared hope. We turned a corner around five weeks, and it's only gotten better since. We developed a bedtime routine that worked for us; it still took us hours to get her to sleep (now it takes just about one hour), but suddenly we weren't having to take her outside pacing up and down the block anymore. Suddenly she was fussing and slapping at my chest as she nursed to sleep, but not screaming bloody murder throughout the house.

Looking back on those early weeks, I learned this:

Our struggle with Ellis was not unique; nothing was wrong with her or us. Newborns are fussy. Newborns need to be held. Newborns are gassy and they don't know how to pass it or what that scary feeling is. They aren't familiar with the feeling of a wet diaper and it upsets them. They can't see six inches in front of their face so they panic if they're set somewhere and can't see you. They've only known the warmth and close comfort of your womb, and can't be expected to be able to sleep on their own without the comfort and safety of your smell and your skin and your voice. A parent's job is to accommodate these needs to the extent that you can until they begin to adjust to the world.

It helped to hear from other new parents that the nightly crying ("witching hour") is normal among all babies, that all babies have a tough time adjusting to the world outside the womb and there's nothing wrong with your baby; you just had no idea how much they cry and how difficult it is for you to cope with that when you're exhausted and drained. You just can't anticipate it, no matter how much people might warn you (and they generally don't!).

It helps now for me to know this really doesn't last forever, and that babies go through their stages of growth and development without you pushing it. Ellis needed to be in bed with us the first month because she freaked out if she couldn't see and smell us. She felt utterly unsafe and alone in the bassinet. But soon she started to see and recognize her surroundings, and now she actually sleeps better in the bassinet. I bring her into bed to nurse so that I can get sleep, but I often end up putting her back in the bassinet at the next wake-up because she wants to stretch out flat on her back with her limbs akimbo more than she can do when squeezed in next to us. Bedsharing is for my convenience with breastfeeding, not because she needs it anymore. She used to only be able to nap on me, and would almost always wake up if I tried to transfer her elsewhere. The past three days, she's had at least one nap a day where she can't get comfortable on me and squirms and fusses til I set her down, at which point she is able to be soothed to sleep if I stay nearby keeping eye contact and making shushing sounds. I follow her lead and try to facilitate her growth as it's happening rather than trying to force her into a stage she's not ready for or keep her in one I'm not ready for her to grow out of. Trying to make her sleep on her own before she was ready would do nothing but keep us in an exhausting battle that distressed both us and her, and I'm glad I insisted on bedsharing while it worked for us.

I knew a lot of this theoretically, and would remind myself and defend it to others who I didn't feel were supporting my choices. But my confidence was not as strong as I attempted to project, because really I didn't know how any of my choices would turn out. Now I can see that she has developed a secure attachment to us, and because of it, is becoming independent more quickly than I'm even ready for! She knows we will do our best to meet her needs, that we won't just leave her to scream and cry when she's unhappy or lonely or scared, so she feels capable of being more adventurous. She spends more time doing things on her own (being set down in a bouncer or playing under her activity gym) because she knows we'll respond when she tells us she's done or needs something else. My choices have been exactly right for us, and I regret anytime I veered from it out of pressure from others or self-doubt. It's the only reason I would wish it upon myself to go through that rough first period all over again, so that I could do it with more confidence!

"If I knew then what I know now..." Isn't that what parenting is for everyone?

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Our Hospital Stay

I got to hold my baby girl for a glorious four hours before they took her to the nursery. They had told me about two hours, so I was thrilled to pieces. We'd been told by several staff that it was very busy that weekend; it had taken quite some time of laboring in triage before I'd gotten a delivery room, and now they were waiting for a recovery room to be made ready. She was born at 12:57 and they took her from me at 5:00PM, after placenta delivery, stitching up, checking her APGAR (9 and 9!), and then several hours of cooing relatives after the room and myself had been cleaned up. (I never saw the crime scene that was described to me - ninjas must have cleaned up before I sat up!) My wife went to the nursery with Ellis because I was determined that she not be out of our sight for even a minute.

When they first took her, I ordered food since I hadn't eaten anything but a cup of blueberries at 11PM the night before. I ate and just tried to get myself together and absorb what had happened and that I had a BABY, and was fine for a while...but then it started to feel like a really long time without her. I'd never been separated from her before, and it ended up being an hour and a half that she was in the nursery. No one was talking to me OR my wife about what was taking so long, and I was getting really antsy! I finally got my baby and my recovery room.

The weekend was really rough. We were there from the wee hours Friday until Sunday night. Every day and night was full of interruptions, and we got far less sleep and recovery than we would have at home.

We finally learned that the reason Ellis had been in the nursery so long was that she had a periurethral cyst, and no one seemed to know what it was or how serious and hadn't seen it on a baby. They were all looking at it and calling in other people to look at it. When we finally saw the pediatric urologist late the next night, he reassured us that he'd seen it a million times and they almost always disappear on their own. But everyone before him that rotated in and out of the room had made us anxious. The first we even knew of this was when an adult urologist came in to look at it. We'd been asked frequently whether she was wetting diapers but had no idea this was why they wanted to know. We had to strip the baby down and take off her diaper for the doctor to look at it, and she said we needed to track the wet diapers to make sure the cyst wasn't blocking the urethra or making it painful to urinate so that the baby was holding her urine and damaging her kidneys. We were told she would need a sonogram to make sure of this also.

We finally got the crying baby swaddled (with the help of a kind and patient nurse - ours were never snug enough) and back to sleep, and then another woman came in, introduced herself as a resident, and asked to check out the cyst. I am normally pretty passive and afraid to say no to people who seem in authority, but the mama bear in me flared up. Babies sleep about 22 hours their first day of life, giving both baby and mother time to recuperate from birth, and no one was letting the poor girl rest! (They also frequently interrupted us while breastfeeding.) I said, "Someone just looked at it." She said, "yes, but I need to call the pediatric urologist about a sonogram and describe it to them." I said, "We just got her calmed and back to sleep again. I don't want to unswaddle her and strip her down again. Ask the last doctor about it." She said, "I really need to be able to see it for myself so I can describe it in detail." I said, "Then you should have come in with the last doctor and looked together. Have her call it in since she saw it. I'm not waking the baby again." She said she would check with the other doctor, and I never saw her again.

Meanwhile, they also kept unswaddling her to prick her heel to test her blood sugar. I know this goes with the territory of gestational diabetes, but I had kept to the diet so well so I knew she wasn't overproducing insulin (and sure enough she tested normal each time) so it was really frustrating to see them needlessly waking her so often. Then they would do weight checks after midnight. I was hooked up to a catheter and an IV after my blood pressure situation, and they kept coming to monitor me too. Neither of us got much sleep even when we could and should have! I remember clearly one time when a nurse came to do all this and left the light on. It was the one light not controlled by my remote, and I was bed-bound because of being hooked up to so much on both sides of me. I rang the call button three times in 45 minutes pleading for someone to just come in and turn the light back off - 45 minutes!! The sun was coming up some after 5:00 by the time someone came to turn it off, and I was near tears begging in that last call. It was the only thing I needed to try to finally get some shuteye and was such a stupid barrier to getting rest!!

Our stream of visitors was absolutely perfect. Only people close to us came by, and they kept their visits short and sweet. It was just enough to help us feel supported and not lonely or bored, but not so much that we would feel overwhelmed or stressed. I felt surprisingly comfortable nursing with people around and just assumed they would leave if THEY felt uncomfortable. (That has remained true.) My mother stayed with me the entire day so that my wife could rush out to feed the cats, get a change of clothes, etc. without me ever being left alone.

There was one morning they both were going to go somewhere, but Mom said she would stay with me while my wife went. I encouraged them to both go because I had the help of nurses and would have to practice being on my own a little bit with Ellis anyway. It was a terrifying hour or so!! She started crying and I couldn't figure out how to help her. When I tried nursing her, she would try to latch but just couldn't. I knew she knew how, so I didn't understand why she wasn't doing it. She would act hungry (they eat CONSTANTLY in the beginning) but would get so frustrated and angry. She would be at my breast with her mouth around my nipple but not closing on it and shake her head violently with frustration and scream. I felt lost without my wife who would pace the room and comfort the baby while I could barely stand even after being unhooked from the machines. I felt panicked at my lack of instincts in how to help her and comfort her. I felt so responsible for her distress and so helpless!

I called for a lactation consultant, and she didn't come for almost an hour which felt like torture. She was very reassuring, though, and said that something was distracting Ellis from being able to latch. We checked her diaper and she did "bicycle legs" in case she had gas and rocked her around and then we tried again, and she latched. She said that you may never know what it was that worked, but just keep trying different things and then offering the breast. I soon learned that Ellis wouldn't eat (would WANT to, but couldn't focus enough to be able to, thus the frustration) if she had anything else wrong, so I had to check everything and just keep trying. When my mother and wife returned, I burst into tears, so grateful for their return, which probably confused them because we appeared to be calmly and successfully nursing!

The sonogram experience was terrible. We'd been seen by the pediatric urologist finally (Saturday night) who was surprised that it hadn't already been done that day, but said he didn't even think it was necessary. What he saw was so commonplace and benign that he wasn't worried, but he said to go through with the sonogram since it had already been ordered and it would put our minds at ease. (The cyst was gone by the time her pediatrician saw her that Tuesday.) We were told discharge would be around lunchtime Sunday, but by 5:00PM they still hadn't seen her for the sonogram! I was so tired and annoyed by then. Every nerve was frayed from lack of sleep and the anxiety of all that was happening nonstop at the hospital all weekend. I just wanted to get home! We were told that the sonograms were backed up because it was a holiday weekend (Memorial Day) and they would get to us soon.

When they finally came for us, they put her in this rolling incubator type thing that enclosed her completely. The place we had to go was so far from where we were, and walking behind her hearing her muffled wails was absolutely heartbreaking. It took forever to get there, and as soon as we did, I asked to hold her until they had the equipment ready so I could comfort her a little. Then the sonogram itself seemed to take forever, and back into the incubator she went. It was absolute torment, seeing her left alone in there, separated from all caregiving adults by plastic, not being held or even touched, no one responding to her desperate cries. She had to be so scared and lonely. What a traumatic early experience! And knowing the sonogram probably wasn't even really necessary just made it all seem that much worse. I couldn't bear it.

We then had to wait for the results to be reviewed and discussed with the pediatrician before we could get cleared for discharge. It was 9:00PM before that happened. We were all absolutely exhausted, and also disappointed that our homecoming would be nothing like we had imagined. When we finally received approval for discharge, my wife went to get the car and my mother and I put Ellis into her coming home outfit (anticlimactic so late at night). We were then told that no one was yet available for "patient transport" (to roll me in a wheelchair downstairs) and they couldn't tell us when they'd be ready. So I sat down to feed my always hungry newborn. While she was still eating, patient transport suddenly arrived. I explained that she would probably be done eating soon, and I didn't want to unlatch her and leave her hungry when she'd been interrupted from sleeping and eating all weekend (SINCE BIRTH). They said they couldn't wait and we had to leave now. So I unlatched my two-day old infant from my breast and buckled her screaming into the carseat. She screamed and cried hysterically all the way home, where I rushed her to the couch to feed her again.

All in all, it was a terrible experience. We were already anxious new parents trying to figure out our newborn who was terrified at this new world, and with having not slept in about two days, and on top of that we had staff constantly interrupting the baby's breastfeeding and sleeping. She'd be crying endlessly, and we'd be trying desperately to soothe her, with no sleep and no experience and no energy left, and finally would have her settled nursing or swaddled and sleeping, and someone would come in and wake her up and then leave us to have to settle her again. I felt like I would go crazy.

The second we got into our house, I felt such relief. We were in OUR space, with our baby in her own clothes and with her own things around her, and suddenly I could really connect with her. Suddenly it wasn't just about soothing this screaming creature that was dependent on us and for whom we were responsible, but it was about us being a family with our daughter and beginning the process of raising her. And I immediately understood why many women choose to give birth at home!

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!