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Wednesday, February 29th, 2012
First things first: Everybody was right about the sex.
I was exactly one week overdue. I’d tried a whole list of things said to promote natural induction: Exercise, massage, eggplant Parmesan. People kept telling me to have sex. I kept telling them to take a look at my massive nine-months-pregnant self.
Um, yeah. Not interested.
But then I was 9.25 months pregnant. That .25 is a lot in LatePregnancyLand. The hubby and I discussed, and decided it was worth a shot. Three hours later, around 5 PM, I felt my first real a contraction, I kid you not. Here is a phrase I’ve never typed before: Yay, semen!
By “real” contraction, I mean it was in the right place. My Braxton-Hicks had been in the top-central tummy region. These contractions were what I remembered from birth one: low and achy, like period cramping. They were light and random, then they disappeared altogether, but I had a feeling. She was on her way.
Later that evening, my friend Konnie came down for a visit. As we sat on the couch sipping wine (another recommended inducer), I told her my dream plan: Get some sleep. Start to labor at home. Drop Roy off at daycare. Head to the hospital before morning’s rush hour. Have the baby by noon—ideally without any drugs whatsoever.
Konnie laughed. “You can’t control these things. She’ll come in her own time,” she said.
Konnie left, and I went to bed. Contractions woke me up around 1 AM.
They were light enough that I could get back to sleep, so I did, dozing off and on until about 3:30, when sleep was clearly no longer a viable distraction. Thankfully, streaming the pilot episode of “My So-Called Life” was. Angela’s earnest eyes and freshly dyed red hair and the troubled locker-leanings of Jordan Catalano tucked me straight back under the weight of high school’s angst and butterflies for another precious hour or so, until the contractions demanded my upright and undivided attention.
So I got up. Made myself an egg sandwich. Began timing them: Roughly 45 seconds long and seven minutes apart. I called my doctor. I called my doula. I woke Clint. You never know when things could speed up, especially since it was my second birth, and my contractions were all over the board during my first—two minutes apart, ten minutes apart, and of varying lengths, right up until push-time. Clint and I decided to go ahead and continue to labor at home awhile longer, see if we couldn’t make it to 6:30, that daycare/rush hour sweet spot. (Our doula, Dawn, offered to come help, but we felt comfortable making it to our goal time on our own.)
I filled the next hour and a half with showering and last-minute packing, with each contraction stopping me in my tracks. As soon as I felt one coming on, I’d sit down. Clear my mind. Breathe deep. Feel my uterine muscles working to move my baby down the birth canal and do my best to encourage them—and her. I talked to her a little, rubbing my belly and saying, “Good job, baby girl. C’mon. We’re ready for you.”
I think it was something about really tapping into her journey, taking place right then inside of me, but I suddenly started sobbing. The tears took me by surprise. I wandered over to Clint and hugged him, blubbering, “I’m just so happy. I can’t believe we finally get to meet her.” And then I went about contracting and packing until it was time to rouse Roy and get him to daycare. Clint and I drove to the hospital in light pre-rush traffic just as planned, pastel bands of sky insulating the horizon.
Dawn met us at the hospital, where we settled in and met our attending nurse. I changed into a tank top, zip-up sweatshirt and big, comfy skirt, then hopped into the hospital bed for the requisite fetal monitoring and dilation check. Since I’d dilated to a two more than a week earlier, I expected a high number, and so was disappointed to find out I was only at a four. A stupid four. To put this into perspective: I was at a four when I arrived at the hospital for my first birth. My son didn’t show up for another 17 hours. (I ended up taking one dose of the narcotic Nubain, which gave me a much needed half-hour break before nearly four hours of pushing. I really hoped to successfully skip all drugs this go-round.)
I was hooked up to the fetal monitoring equipment for about half an hour, which I spent quietly contracting and eating Jell-O, to help fuel the marathon birth I figured I had ahead of me. Once the nurse was satisfied that my baby was doing just fine, she set me free, and Clint, Dawn and I started doing laps down the carpeted hospital halls.
We did this for ages during Roy’s birth. We’d talk and walk like crazy, then when a contraction hit, I’d grab the ballet bar-type railing lining the wall with both hands and hang down into a squatting position until it subsided. I looked forward to this familiar tactic and so was completely surprised when this time, I hated it. It felt overly physical and active and public and unnatural. I gave it two laps around the nurses’ station, then called the walking off. We slipped back into my room to see what else might work. Now, it was around 9 AM.
Out came the birthing (aka exercise) ball. I sat on it, my hands planted on the foot of the hospital bed, circling my hips, around and around. As a contraction built up, I’d shift back, rest my head on the bed, and relax my body; breathe, breathe, breathe, letting my mind clear of all but a clean white light; envisioning my uterine muscles doing their job to move my baby down and out, down and out. Dawn turned on a loop of birth affirmations (“I am focused on a smooth, easy birth.” “I trust my body.”). She and Clint followed my lead, remaining silent. It was my version of HypnoBirthing, and it felt correct and productive, but man, I’ll be honest. It hurt like hell.
I’d been wondering how much of the “pain” my HypnoBirthing training might take out of the equation—I put the word in quotation marks because HypnoBirthing discourages use of it, preferring more accurate and less negative descriptions of what’s happening. “Tightening,” for example, or “pressure.” I get that. But even if you call it tightening, it’s intense, excruciating and off-the-charts painful tightening. One-millimeter-away-from-being-ripped-right-apart kind of tightening. My breathing and meditation tools did not prevent this sensation, but they definitely helped me work through it and with it productively. That is until I just didn’t want to anymore.
Sitting there quietly between contractions, dreading the next one, I was trying so hard to stay positive. Really, I was. I committed to a natural birth for many, many reasons. But the pain was so great, and it was still so early in the day, and if this was anything like my last labor, I could have 14 or 15 hours of this ahead of me. Contracting every five or so minutes, not to mention pushing—I didn’t even bother to do the math.
I opened my eyes and broke it to Clint and Dawn: “I don’t want you guys to be disappointed, but I can’t do this,” I told them. “I can’t take this kind of pain for so long again. I just can’t. I won’t. It’s too much.”
To be continued… (see My Birth Story: Part Two)
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Monday, February 13th, 2012
Here’s what was going on over here exactly one week ago today:
And a whole lot of this:
The birth went pretty much as I’d hoped. Difficult, as childbirth tends to be, but smooth and relatively quick. Relatively. Full report to come. The hospital stay was pretty relaxing, too.
And then we came home. My milk came in, turning my boobs into two large, painful boulders, ready to burst at any moment. My nipples burned from all the newborn mini-mouth action. And Roy threw up. Then he threw up again. And again. It was awful.
Settling in at home with a newborn is difficult. Beautifully disorienting and amazing and wonderul and difficult. Settling in at home with a newborn and a confused toddler with the stomach flu is much more difficult. You want to comfort him. You need to. But there’s a baby in your arms. A baby with a delicate immune system. You can’t do both. It’s heartbreaking. Plus, there’s all that puke to clean up.
Looking back, the last week can well be defined by all the moments that brought tears to my eyes. Here is an incomplete list:
* In the early morning hours, my contractions are gaining momentum and intensity. I’m packing the last few items in my bag between them. Upstairs, Roy is stirring in his crib. We are about to take him to daycare and then head in to the hospital. I start weeping uncontrollably. Our girl is finally on her way.
* I’ve been in hard labor for long enough that I want it to stop. Want to call the whole thing off. Seriously. My doula has convinced me to ride a few contractions out in the tub and see where that gets us. They pick up, rip though me, becoming just short of impossibly, literally, un-fucking-bearable. Only between contractions does my body have enough extra energy to whimper-cry.
* I take a warm bath a few hours post-birth. Clint is in the adjoining hospital room, holding our second child, a mere hour old. I’ve birthed her. I’m no longer pregnant. We did it. We are a family of four. I cry in pure disbelief and happiness.
* Roy bursts into the room, throwing the cloth hospital curtain back dramatically and grinning wide. He’s wearing a t-shirt that says “I’m the Big Brother.” He sits on the bed next to me and peeks skeptically at Vera, his sister, for the first time. Of course the tears come.
* The second night Roy visits us in the hospital, he wants us to come home with him. Doesn’t understand why the three of us stay and he has to go home. He sobs like he’s never sobbed before, repeating, “Mommy, Daddy, Mommy, Daddy.” Again, he sits next to me in the hospital bed. I hug him and whisper that we will come home tomorrow, I promise, and that we’ll all be together and that I love him forever and ever. He calms down but is clearly not OK. It breaks my heart in two.
* We finally get home. During Vera’s inaugural diaper change, she screams so hard it’s silent. Roy positions himself at her head and pats her fuzzy bird hair softly, repeating, “It’s OK, Vera. It’s OK.” Sob.
* Roy just puked. As Clint is cleaning him up, I hold Vera and watch as his toddler lip quivers, shiny bright pink against his pale skin. He looks at me directly, his big blue eyes broadcasting pure confusion and pain. I want to hold my baby, Roy, like I used to. I want things to be as they were. I wonder what we’ve done—and how we’re ever going to do it.
* Clint draws warm baths for me twice a day. The morning ones are especially lovely. I am all alone, soaking my recovering body and needy breasts in lavender salts. Vera is clean and fed and downstairs, in Clint’s arms. I can hear Roy’s toddler squeals and pajama feet padding the floorboards. I relax down into the water and quietly cry over how incredibly lucky I am.
Overall, we’re getting there. Roy’s back on regular food and hasn’t puked in a couple of days. Clint is a patient and clearly proud father of two. My milk is totally in and the pressure and pain are mellowing. Despite the crying jags, which are to be expected, I’m functioning and healing fairly well. And Vera has been a rock star. Mellow. A fabulous eater. A darn good sleeper and pooper. We truly can’t get enough of her and love her like crazy.
That’s it for now. I’ll re-emerge with another update when I’m able.
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Friday, December 2nd, 2011
When Roy was three months old, I decided to go to New York for the annual ASJA writers’ conference to throw a book idea past a few agents. I booked a ticket that had me in the city for the minimum amount of time necessary to accomplish this and meet with a few of my editors—literally 24 hours. I stockpiled enough milk and also lugged my pump with me, to keep my production up.
You know what’s not fun? Pumping in a LaGuardia bathroom. Even less fun? Pumping in the hotel’s public bathroom. At least the airport bathroom was busy and loud and anonymous. This bathroom was silent. The wheeze of that damn pump bounced off the clean tile walls, creating an all too vivid picture as to exactly what was going on in my cramped little stall: Me sitting on the loo in ill-fitting work clothes; amid suitcase, computer bag and purse; shirt hiked up; pump balancing on knees; with clear-plastic funnels machine-milking both of my oversized post-pregnancy boobs. I know. Super sexy. But I was not staying at the hotel, so. Had to be done.
The undignified experience behind me, I was chatting with a colleague in the hotel hallway when a women I’d never met suddenly grabbed my arm and looked me in the eyes. “I recognize your shoes,” she said quietly. “Do you want my room key?”
I could’ve cried. That woman turned out to be Kara Thom, a fellow Minnesotan, fellow writer and fellow mom. I humbly accepted her offer, and we’ve since stayed in touch. (In fact, it’s a wonder we didn’t already know each other, as we run in the same writerly circles here in the Twin Cities.) How beyond sweet of her to seek out my blue peep-toe wedges and offer that much needed bit of comfort and privacy.
Given the way we met, it came as no surprise to me that Kara’s latest effort is all about helping fellow moms. It’s called Hot (Sweaty) Mamas: Five Secrets to Life as a Fit Mom (Andrews McMeel, 2011), which she co-authored with another Minnesota writer, Laurie Kocanda. The book is all about finding time for fitness, whether you’re a new or longtime exerciser or mom. And it comes from the perfect place—from working women with multiple kids who manage, sometimes quite creatively, to make fitness a priority. These ladies truly do understand what we’re all up against. A brief taste:
Being fit before having children doesn’t necessarily give you the upper hand. Whether you were on bed rest, lifting no more than the remote control, or ran on the day you gave birth is irrelevant. Maybe someone else carried your baby. It doesn’t matter. Nine months come and go, but raising children takes eighteen years or more. Any mom who wants to get the sweat out of her system is left with the same dilemma: How do I get my workout in now?
Often, the perceived solution is based on preconceptions and misconceptions we acquired before having children. For instance: Work out when the baby naps. In a perfect world you would start that exercise DVD and turn on the baby monitor. In the imperfect world, where most of us live, ten minutes later the monitor is lighting up and you haven’t even hit your stride.
This book aims to help you break through such real-life obstacles in ways that benefit your whole family.
Interested? Buy the book, or enter to win your own copy of Hot (Sweaty) Mamas by commenting below by the end of the day next Friday, December 9th. Tell me why you could use it, or the most bizarre place you’ve ever pumped. Whatever you feel like sharing.
The fine print: Anonymous comments and those without a valid email address will be disqualified. The winner will be chosen at random, then contacted via email. If I don’t hear from a winner within five days, a new one will be chosen. Please enter/comment only once. Good luck!
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Wednesday, November 23rd, 2011
Yes, I am a day late with this. But let’s focus on what’s important here, people. I am also three-quarters of the way there. Thirty weeks down; ten to go. Seventy-five percent D-O-N-E being pregnant, probably forever. I happy about this. But also a wee bit sad.
Surprised? I am, considering that technically, I am not a fan of pregnancy. I realized that my attitude had somewhat shifted last Saturday, when Clint and I
insanely went to an early bird shopping event at a cool local kids’ store. As we were tag-teaming the list, a sweet woman congratulated me, cooing, “Aw. You two look so cute. You’re all pregnant.”
I thanked her and instinctively mumbled something about it seeming much more adorable when it’s not you. But something about my old familiar take on my pregnancy didn’t sit right. I thought about how when I’m not pregnant, I do get a little flash of empathetic excitement for the mama-to-be. And about how I’m right now experiencing that excitement firsthand. And how the third trimester continues to feel pretty good, outside of some crazy foot pain, which I’m guessing will disappear when I’m not standing doing Thanksgiving prep into the evening. For the first time in either of my pregnancies, I think I’ve officially transitioned from trying to appreciate being pregnant to truly enjoying it. I’m thankful to be here.
The massages don’t hurt my state in the least. I love massages, but rarely treat myself. Too many other things to spend money on. Diapers and food, for example. But that second-trimester back pain made it 100 percent necessary, so, yay! Guilt-free massages for me. Yesterday’s was incredible. When my massage therapist finished, she told me to relax and take my time getting up, then crack the door open when I was ready. Instead, I relaxed and fell asleep. I’m not sure how long I was out, or how she woke me up, but damn. That is a sign of a good massage.
Since I’m on the sappy preggo-lady train, I’ll keep the momentum going: Loving the fact that I can not only feel the cabbage-sized baby punching around, but I can now see her, too. Little jabs that actually make my stomach visibly twitch and undulate. Crazy. Last pregnancy, this probably just freaked me out. This time around, I’m better able to picture the reality of what’s going on. That those twitches are my daughter, dealing with a post-dinner energy spike by somersaulting and shadow boxing. It’s her first communication with me. So pure. Doesn’t yet involve crying or poop or needing my boob in her mouth, just some little nudges that let me know she’s doing alright in there. It’s nice.
And Roy is recovering from his battle with Scarlet Fever well. Man, that’s a nasty one. It’s been more than two weeks since it hit, and the skin on his feet is still peeling and sore, and he still has red marks where the worst of his wounds were. But overall: Better. Cuddlebug.
Little guy is so psyched for all the folks coming here for Thanksgiving—his grandmas and papas and cousins and aunties and uncles. Clint’s parents are even making the trip from up Iowa this year, for the first time. We list everyone off a few times a day, and he just glows about it. Can’t believe all those awesome people will be here, in our house, tomorrow. I’m thrilled, too.
Speaking of, I must go make my brine and pick up the turkeys and do a million other Thanksgivingy things. Happy Turkey Day to you! I hope you have too much to be thankful for.
Cabbage photo credit: iStockphoto
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Friday, November 18th, 2011
The other night we drove by one of our favorite sushi restaurants. Clint said, “Imagine. In just a few months we’ll be in there eating sushi, and you can have your martini. It’s been so long. Almost a year, really.”
Yes, a year. Because I was pregnant last December. I miscarried in March. Then I got pregnant again in April with the girl I’m carrying now. The girl who’s due in January.
I can’t believe how hard it was to write that.
In fact, I meant to write about it last month—October—when the baby we conceived last December was due. For whatever reason, I couldn’t. But I wanted to. For me, for anyone else who’s gone through a miscarriage, and for that little would-be baby we created and couldn’t wait to meet. I wanted to. But I couldn’t.
I’m feeling like maybe I can now. But what to say? That it is common? You know that. I know that. I suppose it helps a little, knowing you’re not alone.
I didn’t expect it. Why would I? With Roy, everything happened just as it should. Actually, better than “they” say it should, given my advanced maternal age of 37. Clint and I joke that we talked about the possibility of having a kid, then held hands, and bam! I was pregnant. That pregnancy went relatively smoothly, ending in a birth that went pretty much as I’d hoped. Lucky all around.
Pregnancy #2 started out the same way. We had a conversation about trying for another, then we looked at each other, and there I was, pregnant again. We had all the usual worries about money and space and time, but really none about the health of the baby. Of course everything would move forward as before. Deep down, it felt right. Meant to be. Our wedding anniversary is in September, Clint’s birthday in November, mine in December, Roy’s in January. October was the open slot in our run of family celebrations. Now it would be filled by our second child’s birthday. And it would all happen mere months before I turned 40. A meaningless deadline, but still. It felt like the logical conclusion to my 30s. Perfect, even.
I didn’t worry when the doctor couldn’t pick up a heartbeat at eight weeks, either. It was still so early.
I didn’t worry when my morning sickness waned much earlier than it had with Roy. Why go there? I chose instead to feel thankful for being nausea-free.
It was the spotting that got me worrying. Light, but spotting nonetheless. “Common in early pregnancy,” the nurse told me over the phone. “If it gets worse, let us know.”
Within days, the flu descended upon our home with a vengeance. After chili-dog night, no less. It was the first time all three of us had gotten knocked down in such a way, and it was rough. Between the spotting and the throwing up, I decided to see the doctor. My vague “bad feeling” grew after discovering I’d lost a few pounds. The doctor still couldn’t pick up a heartbeat. I was 11 weeks along, with a nuchal scan scheduled the following week. Did I want to wait until then, he asked, or would I rather get an ultrasound now? Just to put my mind at ease.
“Now,” I answered, without hesitation. “Definitely now.”
Clint was at home with Roy, throwing up, as I reclined in that dark room, hopefully inspecting the ultrasound screen, conspicuously lacking movement. The technician remained silent.
“Can you see anything?” I asked.
“There’s no pole,” she said.
“What’s a pole?”
Development had stopped weeks earlier.
So yes, I know this is common. That These Things Happen. That most likely, there was some sort of chromosomal abnormality and that Nature took its course. Still, we mourned the loss. And the guilt came. Were my workouts too vigorous? What about that decaf tea that apparently wasn’t? Or maybe it was a matter of me taking my pregnant state for granted. Can development stop simply due to under-appreciation?
My head says no. My heart still wonders.
Then, there was waiting for the inevitable. This is an awful time, knowing what is—isn’t?—inside you. Not knowing what to expect. Not knowing when to expect it. This is not something you want to happen during a meeting, or at a restaurant, or at Target. This is not something you want to happen.
It happened the following day, as I was working at home, alone. So quick and painless it didn’t seem right. At first. Then came cramping. And blood. Both worsened considerably as the hours passed. I wanted my body to take care of things naturally. Apparently, my body wasn’t so sure it could handle this on its own.
So. I could tell you it was horrible. Maybe we should have gone to the hospital. At the point when that decision needed to be made I was teetering on the edge of consciousness and may not have been exercising the best judgement. We didn’t go. And just when both Clint and I knew things could not get any worse, they didn’t. And that was that.
Common. Horrible. But mostly, heartbreaking. An experience that I’m not better for having had. An experience I wouldn’t wish upon anyone. An experience that if you’ve gone through it, I am so sorry. I want to hug you and cry for you and tell you that I understand. Because I do. I know that doesn’t really help much.
I’ll settle for a little.
Image: Broken Heart with a Bandage via Shutterstock
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