Saturday, November 30, 2013

Settling In For the Long Haul

When you think of breastfeeding, what do you think of? Beautiful images of mothers cradling their babies, all soft and nurturing curves and love? That’s somewhere along the lines of what I came to mind for me. And I have friends who represent that to me. Selfless, pure love being provided for their babies. It is a beautiful thing.

But I’m going to come out and say it. It takes a goddamn lot out of me to be that pure, selfless mother. I’m not even sure I’m very good at it. Because, in order to breastfeed, you have to put yourself aside. You are never truly “alone” or “free,” because every moment is just a count down to the next feeding. Planning an outing requires planning it around feedings (or pumping). Planning an outfit requires the same. Because, damnit, your baby needs you. Which, remember, is a beautiful thing. Really, it is. I love being needed by him in order to keep him happy and healthy. And….at the same time, it’s fucking hard. The idea that, for the next year (?), my body will be so connected to his in such a physical and inescapable way is absolutely mind-blowing.

What am I saying? I guess I’m saying that, for me, breastfeeding has made me realize that my body, time, and life no longer belong to just me. And I know what you’re thinking…well, duh, that’s called being a mother. Yes, yes I know. But it’s more than that. If I want to run to the store without my baby, I better be back in time in order to feed him. Or be somewhere I can pump. If I want to drink a glass of wine, I better time it correctly or be prepared to give the baby a bottle. Etc, etc, etc. Everything is related back to the baby and my boobs. Because it’s not just about him. This is a symbiotic relationship. It’s not just him that needs to eat, it’s my breasts that need to feed him. Or else I could get physically sick. And then there are the trivialities…the sour milk smell always scenting my skin, the need to change milk-soaked shirts 3 times (or more) a day, the need to always wear a bra to support my sore breasts, the engorgement, the pain…not to mention how will my breasts ever be a fun part of foreplay again?

My husband and I are close. But this relationship takes things to an entirely new level. My baby needs me and I need him. Every three hours. I suppose you could argue that it is a lot more freedom than being pregnant. That is true. And yet…

I don’t know. I don’t know where I’m going with this. B keeps saying, But, didn’t you know?? Didn’t you think this through? I guess not. I knew breastfeeding would be hard. I knew it would put restrictions on me. But I don’t think I was prepared for the depth of the connection and need that would be required of me. Am I saying I’m selfish? Maybe. Maybe I am not one of those women who represents beautiful maternal nurturance. Or maybe this is just something others feel but don’t say.

The irony of this is that I’m writing this right as I’m settling into breastfeeding. I no longer have such terrible pain (although I’m still only exclusively pumping on my bad side – waiting to heal) and I no longer dread feedings. I’m happy to feed him now and it feels good to know I have what he needs and wants. I wake up with him, on the same rhythm, in order to feed him during the night. And, watching him feed? Amazing. The moments have become sweet and tender, as they’re supposed to be.

So. Again. What is the point of this post? I guess I’m just putting it out there. Breastfeeding requires more from a woman – from a mother – than I ever imagined. Once again, something that a man will not experience, possibly can’t even understand. Even for a mother who chooses not to breastfeed, this is still something that she is touched by. My mother, who could not breastfeed me, still feels sad about this. My mother-in-law still has regret for choosing not to breastfeed her three children. It touches us. Each of us. And, if you choose to do it, you are making a choice to give of yourself. And, by giving, you find a connection that is powerful, scary, and demanding. I suppose, that is love.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

One Month!

Baby - Owen is one month old today. He weighs 9lbs1oz (up from 7lbs6oz birth weight). I can feel the difference. He feels solid and heavy in my arms when I lift him and I am amazed that my newborn is already changing so much. He is more alert and aware and interacts with us. We can leave him alone for a few seconds on the activity mat and he is able to entertain himself just by looking around. He makes the most adorable grunting "snarfling" noises that are his way of communicating like a cross between a piglet and a little old man. He is starting to respond to my voice when he's crying, showing that he knows me and knows my voice will be followed by milk. Basically, he is growing up and doing it so quickly. I am torn between loving watching him change and panicking that I didn't appreciate his "newness" enough during my emotional post partum rollercoaster.

Me - I am doing much better emotionally and physically. I was thinking back to how I was a month ago, a week after giving birth - in so much pain that I couldn't walk, engorged, burning breasts and a tornado of post partum hormones. Now? Just some soreness, no more bleeding, and hormones are starting to regulate. Breastfeeding continues to be hard. I've decided to give my left nipple a break to let the skin grow back. But that means every time I feed I have to feed on one side, pump on the other, which doubles the entire time required to feed the baby. But the fact that the skin is starting to grow back just may be worth it. But, in the meantime, I've started to feel more confident in my latch and started to relax and enjoy the feeding sessions. I've also been taking on more and more responsibility because my mom has gone home now and so I am the primary baby-caretaker during the day. Even though B's parents are here, they aren't really helpful in the way that my mom was and I'm pretty much on my own. So, that feels good and it's a nice transition to next week when I am really on my own. I also have been going on more outings and walks, etc, which feels great emotionally.

Also, my body is starting to feel like my own again. It's really nice to have it back. Actually, I'm pretty happy with how it's coming back. I still dodged the stretch marks and I am pretty happy with how I look. The DD breasts help to balance things out a bit, so the leftover "curviness" matches my luscious breasts. My lower stomach is still loose and soft and squishy and I get some weird pains down there. I imagine that will take some time to really come back. The sad thing is, I look like a sex symbol to my husband, but don't want him near any part of me that is remotely feminine. Rub my shoulders? Sure! Touch my breasts? Hell no. Stroke my hair? Yes please. Get anywhere near my vagina? Yeah right.

Us - It has been interesting what having a baby has done to B and I. We've always been really close and really good at tackling hard times. But this has been unique. Because the really hard labor and the ordeal with breastfeeding is something that B just can't help with. And that is driving him crazy. We can't really "be a team" about it. I think this is a good thing because sometimes we can be too reliant on each other and this is a good lesson for us. And since he can't "fix it" for me, he ends up exasperated and wanting things to be better and so he withdraws. But, in terms of caring for Owen, we are doing great. We split things up and both have things that we are good at and I adore watching B sing Owen to sleep (which is something I am not good at!). I think that we will need to start to make time for just the two of us, but that's a ways down the road. Last night we both had a glass of wine together and Grandma took the baby and we watched a couple of episodes of The Office. It was really, really nice.

Other Stuff - I went to a Mommy and Me Group today at the Birthing Center. It was interesting. First of all, it was SO nice to get out and be around other Mommies and their babies. I loved seeing all of the women breastfeeding so openly (I have decided I despise nurse covers) and to see the beauty in so many different shapes, sizes, and colors of women feeding their babies. I noticed that I fed Owen with so much more ease just by being around them. I definitely felt the fact that I am not as "hippie" as the other moms there. For example, all of the other babies were cloth diapered, all of the other boys were uncircumcised, and all of them co-sleep in the same bed. But, at the end of the day, they were all just going through the same things as me. One lady cracked me up when she said that she feels her only purpose in life right now is to "be a milk cow."

We had to go around and answer three questions - What is your purpose in life? What makes you strong? What are you grateful for? Now, the questions were a bit cheesy and a bit grandiose to answer in a quick moment. But, I answered that my "purpose" is to enjoy life and continue to seek balance. I am strong because of what I have been through in the past month and also because I have learned that only I can do those things and no one can rescue me or help me with my job as a mother. And I am grateful simultaneously for having had the experiences of the last month and also that the first month is over and we are moving forward.

So what about you? What is your purpose in life? What makes you strong? What are you grateful for?

Friday, November 22, 2013

Shaping My New Reality

I'm sitting here holding Owen while I type this and he is happily asleep on my chest, wrapped up snug in a blankie. The last few days/nights, he has decided that any SIDS recommendation can go to hell and if Mommy and Daddy are complying with it, he wants nothing to do with it. In other words...sleep in a crib with no soft, warm blankies? Hell no. He only prefers to be held or wrapped up snug in his Mamaroo. I can get him completely happy-passed-out-milk-drunk-asleep and then put him in his crib next to the bed and five seconds later - BOOm. Awake.

I'm doing much better since I wrote my last post. I have been starting to try to fight back against the hole I was sliding into. Baby blues? What a stupid, condescending term. I know they are trying to separate it from full Post Partum Depression, but give me a break. That is not just "the blues," it is an emotional roller coaster. So, being a psychologist, I'm trying to fight back and recognize warning signs to avoid moving into PPD. I am working on restructuring my thoughts to avoid thoughts that include words like "always," "never" and "impossible." I am looking toward the future and setting fun dates for myself to look forward to. For example, my birthday will be right around Owen's 6 week mark and we are going to celebrate by going to dinner and letting my sister babysit.

I am also trying to take a more positive approach toward breastfeeding. I am working on forcing myself to get a good latch and to get it quickly, rather than fuss around, work up myself and the baby, and then accept a less-than-perfect, painful latch. I am trying to have a sense of control over it in order to not feel so fearful and helpless. I went to a La Leche League meeting and the leaders freaked out when they saw my nipples and told me they can't believe I am still feeding. They even recommended pumping and bottles for a while to give myself a break. But the original LC I have been working with came over again yesterday and gave me some more moral support (it's not really latch support we need - it's more emotional at this point) and talked me through some of my fear reactions to the pain. I also got some APNO ointment which I'm hoping will help with healing. So, at this point, I am still feeding with torn, skinless nipples, but I have less pain overall while feeding and a better sense of confidence and control. I am walking a knife edge though because a bad feeding or a sleepless night can throw me back at any moment. I just have to remember how to stay ahead of it. And, I'm not going to lie...if my nipples don't start to heal soon, it is really going to wear down my positivity.

Although it's hard to separate breastfeeding from my feelings about being a mother, I would say that I am feeling more confident and secure in my role as each day goes on. I think that taking him out of the house somehow affirms this role for me. For example, being in La Leche League meeting surrounded by other mothers, I realized that I have a strong sense of pride that this is my baby and I am his mother and I know best how to care for him. Not to mention, he was clearly the best baby there ;) I also think going on outings helps me in my identity as a mother because it is starting to assimilate my identity into the real world, which makes it something more sustainable. I mean, I cannot imagine a long-term, sustainable life in which all I do is lay on the couch and feed the baby or take naps. It just doesn't work for me. Being out in the world gives me energy and hope.

So this is a long disjointed post in which I suppose I am trying to say - this is hard. I don't know if it is this hard for every woman, but for me, it has challenged to my core my beliefs about who I am, who I want to be, and how to overcome things I am not so proud of. Most importantly, this post is about not giving in the the temptation to feel depressed and overwhelmed, but rather to twist my new reality into a shape that I can fit into comfortably. While I know I don't yet have too much control over this new reality, as long as I can create the perception of something that I can maintain and that allows me to still hold on to parts of the old me and blend with the new...well, that is something. In the meantime, I keep falling in love with my son more and more each day. Which, as you know, is the whole point. :)

Bear is trying to get in on the fun...

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Three Weeks - Contrasting Moments

The first feeding of the day went like this - I sat down to breastfeed Owen and looked at the open sore that used to be a nipple and felt my stomach clench with anticipatory fear. I looked down at my baby and tried to feel only the love for him because he is so amazingly adorable and gets more sweet every day. But as I brought him closer, my body involuntarily shrank from him. I somehow made it through and, after he fed for about 45 minutes, my mom suggested maybe he was still hungry. I lost it. I started to cry ugly-little-kid tears and said I just couldn't bare to feed him anymore. And then...I disintegrated. I began to say awful depressing things about myself and my mom took the baby from me and sent me to bed where I wallowed in despair for a few minutes and then passed out. I know these moments are prompted by exhaustion and hormones, but they are fucking hard. In those moments I despair that I am not the mother I wanted to be. Not the mother I thought I would be. Not the mother my husband expected me to be. Not the mother my baby deserves.

The last feeding I had today was so much different. I snuggled into the couch with Owen and Bear. I got a great latch right away (no idea how...pure luck) that only minimally hurt me. Then I leaned back into the pillows and let Owen snuggle into my stomach and breasts. The kitten snuggled up to my side and then I was able to turn on Netflix and just relax while the baby calmly ate for 30 minutes. I even managed to relatch on the other side without any drama. I felt capable, calm and happy. Afterwards, I washed the baby and was playing with him when Daddy walked in from work.

What is the difference in those two moments? How can I go from so extremely desperate to feeling capable and confident? I suppose, this is motherhood?

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Is He Hungry?

”Is he hungry?”

In the past few weeks, those three words have elicited excitement, apprehension, nervousness, fear, dread and sadness.

I never once for an instant doubted I would breastfeed. I read all of the information about how breastfeeding isn’t a walk in the park and the joys of feeding your baby included more pain than pleasure in the first few weeks. But I thought – oh well, I can handle it. It’s worth it. It’s temporary and I can manage.

I had no idea.

First of all, Owen was born with a tongue tie. This made his latch really painful for me because he couldn’t get his tongue fully over his bottom gums. But, at first, I called it “uncomfortable” but thought it was tolerable. In the meantime, we scheduled him an appointment with a pediatric dentist to have the tongue tie snipped and I assumed the “discomfort” would go away after that. The appointment came and went and despite our fear and dread, Owen didn’t seem to mind the 2 second procedure. The dentist assured me things would “feel much better soon.”

But they didn’t. My nipples began to crack. Then ooze. Then bleed. My emotions began to intensify such that the only time I was anxiety free was in the fifteen minutes or so immediately after he was fed. Then the anxiety would start mounting again as the minutes ticked down to the next feeding. I called the lactation consultant for a home visit. All was good while she was there and she gave me hope. But when she left again I was left with the pain and the fear. Getting him latched on turned into a dance of pain. Me offering the nipple, then pulling it away in fear and cursing myself for “teasing” my son. The consultant called it an anticipatory pain response and said it is very normal. I call it confusing my baby.

I began to have break downs. The first timed itself with my first experience with engorgement. I remember sitting on the couch holding my burning-hot-bowling-ball-boobs and sobbing my eyes out (post partum hormones definitely playing a role here) to my husband while my mom tried to comfort the screaming, hungry baby. I also began to have a negative reaction to my baby. In the beginning, I loved to hold him and gaze at him and just be with him. As time went on, it seemed that as soon as he got near me he wanted to feed and my only interactions with him involved pain. I was jealous of other people who got to cuddle and hold him without the dread that he would want to eat.

I tried it all. Ice. Heat. Cooling gel pads. Enough lanolin to cover my entire body in grease three times over. Breast milk baths for my nipples. Air drying. Different kinds of lanolin. Different kinds of gel pads. Showers. Hand expressing. Pumping. Um…any other suggestions? I’ve probably tried them. I got so frustrated with the breastfeeding books and websites that talk about bleeding nipples and say things like “prevention is the best cure” and “whatever you do, don’t stop breastfeeding.” Fuck you. Breastfeeding was turning an already different postpartum period into intervals of pain and fear. Not to mention, I was beginning to withdraw and get depressed and think that this isn’t a sustainable way of life. And worst of all, it was changing how I looked at my baby.

I gave up and tried nipple shields, per the LC’s advice. Even though I was worried they would “ruin the latch” or ruin our breastfeeding entirely. But, I couldn’t figure out how to use them and it still hurt when he nursed through them, so I ditched that idea.

Finally, I broke down. At B’s urging after looking at my nipples (or lack thereof – I swear all I had left where two oozing holes where my nipples used to be), we broke down and offered him a bottle of pumped breast milk. We did this three times in a row until my right nipple started to heal and I started to feel ready to feed him again. Each bottle we gave made me feel like a failure and I like I was letting him down. I began to get jealous of the bottle and the person feeding him. Finally, I let the jealousy overcome the fear and I was ready again.

But the pain continued. More crying. More pain. Another bottle session. It was hell for B and I. He wanted to fix the problem but couldn’t. He vacillated between wanting to comfort me and wanting me to be strong for our son. I mostly just cried and feared that I was going to fail completely.

Called the LC again. She spent a long time normalizing this for me. Explaining that my reaction was more normal than you’d think and, with her first baby, she didn’t even want to hold her daughter because she was so fearful and overwhelmed by feeding her. She reminded me of the things I’m doing well – I’m still feeding him despite the pain. He has gained a pound back from his lowest weight. He is able to switch between bottle and nipple with no problems. And then we came up with a plan – feed only from the healthier right side for 24 hours, whilst pumping the left side and supplementing with breastmilk bottles if needed. Luckily, I seem to have a really good supply and am able to easily pump 2 oz off the left breast at each pumping with little time spent. So we did this. I was cheerful and hopeful.

That was two days ago. I still haven’t transitioned back to the left breast. It is still open and oozing and I just want the skin to grow back. But I know I can’t keep doing what I’m doing. Right now, feeding the baby involves breast feeding on one side, a pumping session on the other, and a bottle. Even though B usually gives the bottle, the whole process takes 2-3x the amount of time that normal breastfeeding would take. Especially since, with only one breast to feed on, he needs to feed even longer to get enough milk. SIGH. I am not getting enough sleep.

One positive is that, with less pain (note I say less pain, not no pain) associated with feeding, I am no longer dreading each feeding. I now only dislike the first few minutes, but then settle in and feel ok during the rest of the feeding. And I don’t have so much terror when someone hands me the baby and tells me he’s hungry. Also, because B has gone back to work, I am doing more of the baby care now. This is actually a good thing because it means my only interaction with him is not just feeding him. Who knew that changing a diaper could help my relationship with my son? But it does. To do something for him that is not invoking fear and sadness in me is a GOOD thing.

So where does that leave me? I fear I am just a few hours away from backsliding into the bad, bad place. But I hope I am a few hours away from finding a sustainable, tolerable routine. I’m not sure which direction the scale will tip.

In sum, breastfeeding is second only to my ridiculous labor in the hardest thing I have ever done. In some ways, it is harder, because it is prolonged and drawn out and paints a picture of weeks and weeks of intolerable pain and suffering. If I didn’t really, really, really want this, I would have given in to exclusively pumping or formula in the first week. It’s almost like choosing an epidural after wanting a medication-free birth. The option is there. But it’s not something I want. It’s very, very important to me. And so, the fact that I’ve considered stopping shows you how absolutely awful this has been for me.

I wish I hadn’t discounted what I read about other women’s experiences. This is harder than you think. Unless you are super-woman and are lucky enough to be able to have a painfree experience or are strong enough to stoically push through it. If that is the case, then I hate you.

Right now, he is in the Mamaroo next to me (does anyone else feel totally guilty for leaving their baby in a swing for hours??) and I am already planning ahead for the next feeding. Sigh. But, I just looked over at him and he has both fists up by his head and he looks absolutely adorable. So, that helps.

I don’t know where that leaves me. I hope, soon, I will be able to feed equally on both sides and it won’t be such an ordeal . When I ask, “Is he hungry?” and the answer is yes, I want to be able to calmly take the baby, put him to my breast, and begin to feed him without stopping my conversation I was having. Until then, I remain feeling isolated, frightened, and overwhelmed by the entire experience.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Two Weeks

Well, the second week has been harder than the first. It's settling in that this is my life in 2 to 4 hour segments. Hurry up, rush, care for baby, sleep when you can, breathe...this is life. Breastfeeding has been the theme of this week. Again, I will write a whole post on it, but oh my god what an experience. And by that I mean, it is chewing me up and spitting me out in little pieces. But, I just had a great visit from the lactation consultant and we have a plan now and I'm feeling positive. We will see how I feel at the 3:00am feeding tonight. B is back to work this week, so that's been one step closer to the "real world." The next step will be when my mom leaves and its just Owen and I! Sadly, there are days when I've been missing the two days we spent in the hospital, when it was just the three of us in a teeny tiny room with nothing to do but be amazed by our baby. Trying to fit in laundry, feeding pets, preparing meals, etc, makes it all the more gritty. And this is WITH my mom doing most of that work!

We had a pediatrician appointment today for his two week check up. Owen has officially gained back a pound from his lowest weight. Hooray! I was so proud of my little boy. He is so healthy and strong.

And me? I'm recovering. Doing better physically, but still don't have the all-clear to go for walks or get out of the house much. Feeling a bit stir crazy as a result. The pediatrician appointment was exciting just because we got to GO somewhere. Tomorrow we may take Owen to visit Daddy and friends at the office. Not thinking about labor as much, except when my issues with breastfeeding (i.e., overcoming pain, being a good enough mom, etc) bring back up doubts that I experienced from the birth. I'm beginning to wonder if I will have time to write a real post (ever!), but I do want to delve into how this experience has forced me to look at things about myself in a new light. My mom said, "We need to face our shadow selves." Ok. Well I guess my shadow self needs to get her act together and have a tough upper lip. Or at least tougher nipples.

Hoping to get back into commenting tomorrow. Don't expect too much retroactive commenting, but at least I'm hoping to jump back into the game.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Birth Story - Part 2

You can find Part 1 of this story here.

Disclaimer – I wrote this story partially for my readers and partially for me. I wanted to have a chance to process what happened during Owen’s birth and so I tried not to hold back. That means you will be left with a lot of details that may get overwhelming. I apologize for that, but it is what it is. Also, if you had a traumatic birth experience of your own or are really fearful about birth, you may want to skip this…

After deciding a hospital transfer was necessary, B helped me to get dressed and they ran to call an ambulance. They chose an ambulance transfer rather than in our car because they didn’t want me to give birth in the car. Remember, I was at 10 cm, had been pushing over three hours, and had pushed him so far down in the birth canal that we could already see his head of hair.

That was the moment everything changed. Remember my peaceful tranquility in the tub? All gone. Suddenly they were putting clothes on me, helping me to breathe calmly, and then the EMT team burst in. This was surreal. It had been so quiet and relaxed in our bubble of focus, and then suddenly these four men in uniforms burst in with a stretcher. Before they showed up, I was feeling strong and capable and in labor. When they entered, I became a patient, someone who was at risk, and there was something wrong. They wouldn’t even let me stand up to get on the stretcher. They picked me up with a sheet and transferred me to a stretcher and I caught glimpses of my mom, sister, and husband – all looking terrified. But I was alone. They said only one person could ride in the ambulance, but then they changed their mind and put B in the front of the ambulance. I was in the back, with these men, who strapped me down, put oxygen in my nose, put an IV in my arm, and kept telling me ”not to push”. How am I not supposed to push when I’ve been pushing for three hours? They kept asking me stupid questions, like my social security number, while I was having a contraction.

The contractions I experienced in the ambulance were the worst ones I had because my body was pushing on its own and the pain was entwisted with fear because I didn’t want to push when I wasn’t supposed to. When we got to the hospital, I was the Hollywood stereotype of a women being wheeled into labor and delivery screaming and yelling, “I’m pushing!!”

This was a low point for me. I felt so scared and alone and didn’t know what would happen when we got there. Before leaving the birthing center I was so relaxed and safe feeling. Suddenly I was shoved into an entirely different sphere. I also had no idea what would happen once they got me into the room. I thought they might rush me into an OR and give me a c-section.

Instead, they got me in a bed (very similar to the one I had been in a week before!), surrounded me with nurses, and said ”Let’s have a baby!” I remember thinking, “Vaginally??”

And then things got better. My mom and sister came in and sat on one side of the room. My midwife and one of the students showed up to act as doulas. B was at my head again, calming me down. And the nurses were convinced I could push the baby out. I think, looking back, that they had some preconceived notions that we likely hadn’t been pushing effectively at the birthing center. They were also seduced by how far down into the birth canal that he already was. My midwife told me later that she was so frustrated when she saw they were going to try all of the same positions we’d already tried, especially when we came to the hospital for further interventions.

But I didn’t know any of this at the time. I just knew that there was a nice nurse willing to help me push my baby out. So I pushed again. And pushed. And pushed. I was hanging from birthing bar, squatting, or laying back with my legs propped against the bar and I was pushing for all that I had.

But it wasn’t good enough. At someu point, I began to apologize over and over because I couldn’t push him out. I felt like I wasn’t good enough or that I wasn’t pushing hard enough and that it was all my fault. Looking back, I don’t know if my own fear that I had had initially was still holding me back. I did feel at times that I would push so hard to a point and then back off, because it felt like too much. But the midwife explained that I was literally turning myself inside out and wasn’t holding back like I thought I was. But at the time I kept feeling “not good enough” or not “strong enough” to push him out.

At this point, the details of the story get fuzzy. I had already been pushing for hours and had totally lost track of time. The doctor showed up eventually and was coaching me through some pushes. But, if you remember, this doctor is not exactly friendly or gentle and her coaching consisted of screaming at me, ”You call that a push? That’s not a push! Don’t you want to have this baby?” while she ripped on my perineum. So we pushed more. And more. I pushed through a shift change of nurses. I pushed through cramps in my back that shot all the way down my legs. I pushed through exhaustion where my eyes were rolling back into my head. I pushed with the oxygen mask on my face that made me feel claustrophobic and scared.

Finally, the doctor came back and decided it was time to use the vacuum. Later, my team of people (the midwife, my mom and husband) told me they had wanted them to use this intervention earlier. I was so exhausted I could hardly stay awake anymore and just kept repeating, “I’m sorry” after every contraction. So, she put the vacuum in. And then….things went to hell again. The vacuum hurt SO badly. Remember, no pain meds at all. I didn’t feel the need for meds until she inserted the vacuum. Then, when I began to push, the pain became excruciating. She was pulling and stretching my skin, while rotating the vacuum inside of me, turning his head, and yelling at me to push harder. All of the nurses kept screaming at me to pull my legs wide open and back and I…. just panicked. There were so many people staring at me and it felt like they were all yelling and the pain from whatever the doctor was doing was so intense that I just couldn’t hold my own legs open to allow her to continue. I know it was irrational, but I began to push my legs forward and down, trying to force her out of me. The screaming from the nurses intensified. One nurse told me I couldn't do that or I would hurt my baby. I began to cry and scream back at them to “Take it out, take it out. I can’t do this.” Eventually they did. I could feel their disappointment, judgment and frustration.

Through tears, I looked up at B and saw that he was crying too. This broke my heart. I thought he was crying because I had let us down. I had let our baby down. Because I was hurting our baby and because we were going to have to have a cesarean. Later he told me that he was crying because I was in so much pain and everyone was being so mean to me. But at that moment, I projected my own self judgment onto him. I thought for sure at this point we were going to that OR, but the doctor said it would be really hard to get him out at this point because he had been so far down into the birth canal for so long. So, she left and I had no idea what the plan was.

And guess what? More pushing! Oh my god. Again, I didn’t have a concept of time or pain or fear, I just went contraction to contraction, pushing again and again and each time feeling like I was failing somehow. The only thing that kept me going was B. Without him, I would have begged to be put under completely and had the baby cut out of me. He the perfect mixture of steadiness, sternness, strength and comfort. He could read me through a contraction and tell me when to breathe, when to relax my face, and where to focus my pushes. I felt like he was inside of me, coaching me through it. I loved him so much and yet felt so badly for letting him down.

Finally, the doctor came back and things got intense. It seemed as if the number of people in the room suddenly multiplied by three. The doctor was back, the nurses were telling me that I needed to push the baby out while the doctor was here, because she had other patients to see to, and everyone was energized. Except me. I was exhausted. Finally, my midwife (who has no medical privileges at the hospital), suggested an episiotomy. I was terrified, but agreed.

Each stage becomes blurrier and blurrier. At the end, it all happened at once. An episiotomy equivalent to a level 2 tear, the vacuum going back in, and the most intense pushing yet. And then…the second heart deceleration of the night. (We later learned it was because I was hyperventilating and as soon as I got oxygen, it came back up). I could hear everyone responding to his heart rate dropping and I felt myself raising up out of the dark trap I had been in and I just – pushed right into the pain of the vacuum. And suddenly, I felt it. His head slid out of me. Everyone told me to stop pushing and I just felt a moment of peace. I wasn’t worried about the baby, wasn’t worried about anything. I felt like I had emerged out of somewhere dark and the feeling – the feeling I had been so afraid of of his head sliding out – was so amazing and so beautiful and I was so goddamn grateful. And then, the rest of him. He just slid out. After NINE hours of pushing and not believing if I would ever get out of this limbo of pain and fear, he slid out of me and was suddenly here.

I cannot tell you how relieved and grateful I was that I got to have the experience of feeling him come out of me in that way. I was amazed by that moment.

He was born at 8:49 pm on October 29th, 2013, after 21 hours of labor, nine hours of pushing. Those are the details. The important part is that he was born.

Then the doctor lifted him up and I saw a crying (strong and alive!) baby between my legs. Suddenly here in this world. B quickly cut the cord and then the NICU people whisked him away into the corner of the room to check on him because it had been so long since my water broke. B went with Owen into the corner. My mom stepped up and took my hand for the stitches and placenta delivery.

Owen had swallowed a lot of meconium and they were initially worried about him. But his Apgar scores went up from an initial of 7, to 8, then 9. I was terrified they’d take him out of the room, but, after I delivered the placenta, he was placed on my chest. B was crying…I’m not sure if I was. Maybe? I just remember thinking, Oh hello. I know you.” I just looked at him and felt instantly close to him.

I will probably write a post later on where I reflect on what I think this labor means to me and how it has affected my view of myself and the journey I have had recovering emotionally from this birth. I will say for now that it shook my opinions of myself. It shook me such that I no longer see myself as so “strong.” Instead I see myself as human and fragile, but feel so happy that I was able to achieve this in the end. I need to think more on it. Having a baby doesn’t leave you a lot of time for dwelling, but I know it’s something I need to process, especially if I will have a second child.

Some of you may realize while reading this that pushing for that long is a very dangerous thing. I was later told that my uterus could have given out and I could have begun to hemorrhage. Owen could have been in distress at any time. But at the time, I didn’t know any of this. My family was terrified. My midwife said she was angry and frustrated. I was later told by my midwife and multiple nurses that they have never heard of anyone pushing for that long. I don’t know how it happened that I was allowed to push for so long, but in the end, I am glad that everything was ok and the baby was ok and he came out the way that he did.

Oh, and because you will ask, we still don’t know why Owen wouldn’t come out. He was in an occipital anterior position, the right position to be in. According to the midwife I was a very effective pusher, and there were no complications that should have stopped him from coming out. I think there may have been some factors that combined together. First – my fear. Even though everyone assures me I did well, I still had moments where I felt fear holding me back. Also, my perineum was so tight that, prior to the episiotomy, the doctor was unable to use the vacuum effectively. Finally, the contractions had slowed down toward the end, which kept sucking him back up inside of me. They gave me three doses of Pitocin by the end to increase contractions, but it had no effect. So, I supposed we will never know. All we do know, is that my midwife told me that, in order for the vacuum to be effective, I had to push him down as low as I did so we could get him out vaginally. That was how it had to happen.

I am still recovering physically from such a hard birth. But that recovery will be much easier than the emotional recovery. It was like a trauma. I still have dreams and flashbacks to some of those moments. But thank god for the moment of him sliding out of me, or the doctor holding him up, or B crying while he cut the cord. Those moments will make the other memories wither and become less important.

And that’s it. That’s my birth story. It took me forever to write it, there are way too many details, probably way too many typos and it is not a well-written piece of prose. It is just my memories of what happened. Now you know.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Birth Story - Part 1

Disclaimer – I wrote this story partially for my readers and partially for me. I wanted to have a chance to process what happened during Owen’s birth and so I tried not to hold back. That means you will be left with a lot of details that may get overwhelming. I apologize for that, but it is what it is. Also, if you had a traumatic birth experience of your own or are really fearful about birth, you may want to skip this…

My early labor started on the morning of Monday the 28th. I lay on my couch, timing contractions that were not painful, but more intense than Braxton Hicks. They were coming regularly every 12-15 minutes. By afternoon, they had stopped, so I didn’t think much of it. B and I went to an infant CPR class that night and I had some ongoing contractions, but again nothing major. When we got into bed that night, the contractions started to get more intense. I was excited, but not getting my hopes up too much. By midnight, the contractions woke me up with a lurch and I ran into the bathroom in pain. From there, I spent the next 3 hours in a blur of intense contractions. I no longer could even help B time them because I couldn’t tell him when they were starting…he just had to watch me to monitor them on the app. B was texting the midwife the whole time and so somehow I ended up in the shower (per her recommendation). Again, I don’t really remember a lot of this. Then, I remember B telling me, ”Ok, it’s time. We’re going.” People say you will just know when it’s time to go, well, I guess you do. Or, in this case, he knew.

So we got in the car and were pulling out into the alley when I was hit by a really hard contraction. I started saying ”I need to be in the bathroom” and so I leapt out of the car and headed back for the bathroom, but then suddenly my water broke. In the alley. B asked, “Are you sure??” Oh yes, I was sure. It was running down my legs like in the movies.

We made it to the birth center. Again, the car ride was a blur. All I remember is the beeping of the seat belt alarm because I couldn’t bear to have my seat belt on. When we got there, the midwife met us at the door and ushered us in. She checked me for dilation and I was at 4cm. Perfect. Just when they want you to arrive.

And then? And then the midwife and her assistant pretty much just left us alone. They made up beds on the couches in the sitting room and left us to do what we wanted. It was around 4:00 am. We lit candles, put Enya music on, got out my heating pad, and cuddled in bed. Alternating between cuddling peacefully and me jumping onto my hands and knees for particularly bad contractions. I also spent some time in the shower, which felt great, but I was waiting for the tub, which I knew would feel better than great. When contractions intensified, I started to try different things. We would walk around with me leaning on B’s shoulders, him walking backwards, and him holding me through contractions. I would sit on the birthing ball, leaning over the tub, and then stand up to put all of my weight on the tub during a contraction. I did a lot of being on hands and knees. Throughout it all, the most helpful things were breathing through the contractions and B putting counter pressure on my back. The counter pressure was the most effective thing. He would push as hard as he could on both sides of my spine, while I would scream things like “harder! lower! higher!” and mostly, “don’t stop!!” It really, really helped.

At some point, while leaning over the tub, I suddenly found myself throwing up. It was this really nonchalant, relaxed thing. As in, I didn’t say anything or notify anyone, I just started emptying the entire contents of my stomach into this big beautiful pristine tub. B was shocked, but I felt better afterwards.

Then I switched gears again and found myself doing a lot of laboring on the toilet. B would reach around behind and press on my lower back while I leaned into his shoulders. At this point, I asked the midwife to check me again. She thought it was too soon (must have been around 7:00 or 8:00am). She thought it was too early, but eventually agreed. I was SO nervous there would be no progress. But I was at 7 cm. I was very happy with that.

And then…I’m not really sure. It starts to get blurry again. I have random memories. Watching B sleep blissfully on the bed and wanting to wake him up but knowing he should rest while he could. Kicking him to wake him up (ha). Trying to eat a granola bar (unsuccessfully). Being fed a spoonful of maple syrup by the midwife assistant (random). Realizing the sun was up and the world was continuing about its day without us. Realizing my mom was landing at LAX and would be on her way to the birthing center. Having moments where I realized that, if I would have been at the hospital, I would have been considering an epidural. But mostly, just working through it. I would have moments where I would lose it a bit and start to swear about the pain, but mostly, I just…dealt with it.

Then, the noises I was making started to change. Really, you read about it, but it truly does happen. I started making lower moaning noises and felt like my body was bearing down a bit. The midwife noticed and checked me. TEN CENTIMETERS! Hooray. It was only noon. It felt like it was happening so smoothly and easily. From 4cms at 4:00am to 10 cms at noon.

But there was still a little lip left. The midwife said I could get in the tub to try to progress the last little bit. This was definitely my favorite part of the laboring. It was really like those movies of women having the “perfect birth.” The tub was enormous, more of a birthing pool – long and deep and wide. I could brace my back against one wall and push my legs on the other side and float through the contractions. B took a picture of me during this part and I really looked so peaceful and focused. The midwife even gave me the ok to start pushing a bit, just to allow myself to go with what my body wanted to do. At one point I thought I was going to have my baby in the tub, which was not something I had planned on, but it just felt right at that time.

A little while in to the tub time, my mom and sister came in. They came in and talked to me and held my hand and I could see the amazement in their eyes. I think it was amazing that this was actually happening and that I was in such a peaceful, blissed out state.

Please remember this moment. This moment was the highlight of my labor. I was feeling so strong and happy and ready. Here I was, at ten centimeters, under control, tranquil, and ready to meet my baby. I couldn’t believe how fast everything had progressed (a little under 12 hours to reach 10 cms) and how, even though it had been painful and hard, it had seemed easier than my worst fears had expected. Please remember this. Me, in the tub, serene and happy.

Because from here it all goes to hell.

At that point the midwife asked me to get out of the tub so she could check the lip of my cervix again. She checked me and said she thought she could push it out of the way if I did a few pushes with her hand on my cervix. I agreed naively. They got me on the birthing stool and we got started. Holy hell. That was painful. Her hands inside of me, pushing my cervix around his head while I bore down in a squat position. But we made it through and I was ready to start pushing him out! I wanted to get back in the tub, but she asked me to try the stool for a bit, since it would be easier. I agreed.

Almost immediately when I started pushing, I began to get afraid. I wasn’t afraid of the pain, but afraid of the unknown. As in, what would it feel like as he came out of me? How could I prepare myself for something that was unlike anything I had ever experienced? Also, I wanted to know how long it would take and whether I would tear. The midwife smiled at me and said there was no way to answer these questions because it was different for every woman. I understood her logically, but kept asking the same questions over and over. It was as if I needed to know in order to push him out, because pushing into the unknown was terrifying to me.

Now this is weird that this happened. I had been afraid of the pain of labor, but had never been afraid of the pushing stage. I thought I would be good at pushing and be effective at pushing. But suddenly, here I was, paralyzed by the unknown. At first, everyone was laughing a bit at me, but then the midwife got serious and said, “I can’t answer the questions, you just have to push.”

So we switched positions to help switch up my mindset. We got me on the bed, legs up in the air, in a more traditional position. It was at this point that the midwife told me that I started pushing in earnest. She said my pushes became “real” and “strong.” During the pushing, I wasn’t worried about the pain, but I was making jokes that the perineal massage going on wasn’t helping any matters. So I kept pushing. And pushing. And pushing.

I had B holding one leg, a student midwife holding the other, a student midwife at my head – coaching me, and the midwife sitting silently between my legs. I remember being shocked at how much work it was. I was sweating, sweating, sweating. Owen’s heartbeat was strong and solid through it all. But I remember the midwife getting quieter and quieter and could catch her making eye contact with her two students.

Finally, they suggested some different positions. Lying on side, on all fours…but these just made me feel like I was going to split in two and weren’t effective. And then, the midwife looked at me and said, “I don’t think you’re going to be able to push this baby out without help. We’ve been pushing for three hours and he’s not coming out.” She explained that, with as hard as I was pushing, he should have been out by now. He said he could have been in a weird position, but she wasn't able to tell yet. She said, even though his heart tone was strong, it would be safer at this point to proceed with something different, since we had been pushing for so long. She laid out our options – call in a doctor to the birth center to use a vacuum or go to the hospital. I didn’t like either option, but B and I talked and decided to call the doctor in.

They said it could take some time for him to get there and in the meantime I could get back in the tub and just keep pushing on my own until he showed up. So, back in the tub I went. As soon as I got in I was happier. But then I was hit by my first contraction in the tub and I began to panic. I didn’t know what to do because the midwife wasn’t by my side anymore (calling the doctor) and no one was actively coaching me and so I felt lost again. I freaked out a bit and then the student midwife who was monitoring Owen’s heart beat raised her voice and said, “Decel.” His heart rate had dropped to 70 beats per minute. They rushed and got me out of the tub and his heart rate went right back up to 130. But that was it.

B and I looked at each other and said, “Hospital.” The midwives agreed.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

One Week!

I still owe you my Birth Story and I'm about halfway through writing it, but I can't ignore that Owen is now one week old!'s 8:40 as I write this. He was born at 8:49 exactly one week ago. That gives me chills. The first week has been overwhelming, intense, difficult and amazing. By far the hardest part is breastfeeding and that deserves its own post but you can imagine how draining and intense it has been. The best parts are holding him and looking into his eyes and marveling at his facial expressions. I am awed by being a mother and awed by my son. I feel like I am the luckiest mother in the world, but I know that everyone feels that way. That's the beauty of this relationship.

I don't really know how to describe to you in words the first week. There are moments. When he nuzzles into my neck. When he makes little grunting noises in his sleep. When my nipples hurt so badly I want to cry out (or I actually do cry out). When B tells me I am strong and he adores me. When B sings to Owen to soothe him. When Owen calms just by hearing my voice. When I am terrified that he will stop breathing. When I realize that I am carrying him around like a pro. When I realize that we are actually doing this. When I am terrified and amazed that this is the start of the rest of his life.

The first week. The beginning. The moment I have been thinking about for nine months. The transition to a new identity. It is actually happening.

A Shout Out to Lorna at the LaLa Diaries for the wonderful background for my weekly photos. Crafty people amaze me!

p.s. I am sorry about not commenting on your blogs. I am reading them. I read them while I feed Owen in the middle of the night and I feel alone and overwhelmed. But it's hard to comment from my phone and I just fell behind. But I love to read what everyone else is going through. I am happy for those of you who have had wonderful news, anxious along with some of you who are waiting for news, and relieved to read others who are experiencing things similar to me. Basically, I love you guys!

Friday, November 1, 2013

Photo Introductions

I know I owe you a Birth Story. Especially after telling you that it is shocking and dramatic. But, as you can imagine, there has been a lack of time since bring Owen home from the hospital. But, I promise I will write it soon, probably in two installments. I think it will be therapeutic for me to write the story out, so I want to really do it justice. So, please, bear with me, it's coming soon!

In the meantime, let me share a few interesting tidbits...First of all, can I just tell you, postpartum recovery is no joke. I am in a lot of pain and feel like an invalid, but it is really nice to have my body back. Today I went out dressed in a dress and, though I still have a small tummy (maybe 4-6 months pregnant?), I felt so feminine and light and free. Another interesting fact - I made it through my entire pregnancy and labor with no stretch marks and no hemorrhoids (a fear of mine). So that is cause for celebration!! Finally, I made it through the whole pregnancy with no I had a Starbucks mocha that was to die for. Still waiting to have my first glass of wine. I have to figure out breastfeeding rules, etc, before I dive in. When I do, you can bet there will likely be a whole post about how marvelous it was ;)

Anyhow, without further ado, the purpose of this post was to introduce you to Owen and his beautiful personality in order to tide you over until his birth story. So, I leave you with photo evidence of why I am completely in love with him already...

Seconds after being born. So alert!
So much hair!
On our way home!
My happy, beautiful, baby!
It's amazing and terrifying how you can feel so much for this little person.