4am Sunday morning
R. sitting on the couch rocking Georgia after I nursed her. Me sitting in the glider hooked up to the Medela pump (low milk supply makes it necessary for me to pump after every feeding), teets hanging out of two slits I’ve cut out of an old sports bra. We are half asleep, wisps of drool leaking from mouths (all of ours). Tony Bennett and k.d. lang’s version of “What a Wonderful World” plays in the background as part of a lullaby tape a friend gave me. Georgia is alert, a rare state, but typical for her in the middle of the night. She reaches out to touch R.’s chest — first time her little hand seems to make conscious contact with him. It is sweet, unexpected, a reward for all our hard work. The music is sappy, but since giving birth I’ve become an emotional puddle. I say, “I think I’m going to cry.” R. says, “I already am” and I see that he is, his face a few shades redder than usual, eyes squeezed shut, shoulders shaking.
She’s here! Georgia Rose was born last Saturday, Dec. 20 at 3:19am. 6 lbs, 11 oz, 19 1/4 inches.
Needless to say, I’ve been very busy since then and barely managed to get an email out to friends and family. Posting to this blog seemed daunting, but here I am, cogent and awake and writing. I’m sure writing will come in short spurts now, but I’ll be grateful for any time spent here.
I started IVF last November, became pregnant in April, weathered various scarey and minor complications through September and had a typical third trimester pregnancy. Each step of the way I thought, boy, this is hard. It can’t get any harder. It has to get easier some time. Wrong. I will say that the IVF treatments were the worst by far, but the drain was more emotional than physical. The pregnancy was draining physically. The birth, well, more on that later, but it’s true what people say — it doesn’t last forever, to remember that it will eventually be over. Now that the little bambina is here I understand that the rest was nothing. Now the real work begins. The responsibility of round the clock care for an infant is astounding. For some reason, the hospital sent us home with this child thinking that we knew how to care for her. Day by day, things seem to make more sense and I become more confident that R. and I will find our way.
There’s too much to tell right now and not enough time. I am going to choose sleep over writing this time. Night night.
I think I’m almost prepared for the baby to be here. All weekend R. and I have been cleaning out closets, packing away extraneous files, and made what I hope is our final trip to Buy Buy Baby. After six attempts, we’ve achieved the right configuration in the bedroom to accommodate the playard, changing table, bed, dresser, and two night stands. All in an 8 x 13 room. I still have about twenty items to check off my prep list (and another twenty to add), but if the baby were to come tomorrow I think we could manage. We have diapers, a changing pad, a place for the baby to sleep, my breasts. After months of avoiding baby stores and stuffed animals, I now happily arrange tiny onesies and sleep suits on the bed and marvel at how they will be filled in a few weeks. Who will occupy them? What will he or she look like? Will it be a he or she? In my final month, I’ve let myself get romantic and imagine a cooing baby in my arms, hours shifting back and forth in my glider, nesting in one of my new lounge outfits bought specially for long winter days of nursing.
By working on my checklist, I’ve done a good job distracting myself from the actual birth. I went from pregnancy to baby, forgetting (well, not forgetting but maybe conveniently ignoring) the fact that I have to yet endure a sweaty, painful labor. (I called one of the nurses this morning to see if I could bring a robe to the labor room. She said not to because it would only get bloody) It’s easy to deny the least pleasant aspect of something.
But now that the preparations are almost done, I’m left with the stark reminder that this baby has to come out, physically and painfully, soon. Most days I forget to do my kegels (which are now nearly impossible to feel with the added pressure on my abdomen). I promise myself I will do perineal massage, however uncomfortable and immodest, to help avoid an episiotomy. R. and I have practiced our 1, 2, 3, 4 and he-he hoo-hoo Lamaze breathing twice. Am I in denial? Why am I more worried about diapers and room layout than perhaps the most challenging and painful event of my life? Maybe I’m thinking about that epidural too much. More and more people are telling me how it made their childbirth experience better, by reducing the pain they could actually enjoy the birth.
Yesterday a friend reminded me that women give birth all the time, gently suggesting I stop freaking out about it. Yes, they do it all the time, but not me!
I walked by our full length mirror this morning and saw someone with quite a huge belly. Okay, maybe it was the draping maroon dress that I used to find so forgiving. Now it resembles one of those tent dresses I swore I would never wear. But it’s the home stretch (I hope) and tomorrow is my last day of work, so from here on out I’m retiring back to yoga pants and big sweaters. Today is also the last day I will wrestle with maternity stockings. The end feels near, but not too near. Yesterday my doctor examined me and proclaimed that there was no progress. She said it apologetically, but I said, great! I’m not ready anyway. She said most women are anxious by this point and want things to progress. Maybe I’ll feel that way when the apartment is straightened out and we’ve figured out what the baby is going to sleep in. Or when I’ve checked off at least half of fifty items on my to do list. I know I’ll never be truly prepared, but at least I can pretend.
Last night I said to R., pretty soon there is going to be another person here. It’s going to be strange. A friend told me after their baby girl arrived, they felt like they had a new visitor. But then they realized she wasn’t going to leave. I wonder how I’ll feel. I think I’ll be too tired to think about it.
This morning I had an ultrasound to check the position and size of the baby. The head is down, the technician said, which is a relief as the baby was tranverse a few weeks ago. Most of the movement I feel is below my right breast. Lots of butt and leg movement, especially at night when I lie down. The head is where it should be at 36 weeks but apparently it is still bobbing around. It hasn’t fastened itself, or dropped, into my pelvis, even though I feel more pressure down there and pee about every half hour. I usually have to pee again before I even leave the bathroom. I’m told this will get worse. That’s fine. I’m in the home stretch — only one week away from being considered full term.
According to the measurements, the baby is now six pounds. Six pounds! The technician predicted a 7 1/2 pounder. Almost fully baked. A couple more weeks of finishing. Dr. L. said it’s a good size — not too big and not too small. Fine with me — I don’t need to be further terrified by the possibility of a ten pound baby exiting my premises. I was a seven pound baby and I heard that the mother’s size has something to do with how big the baby will be. And it’s an average to small size. But I have to admit, I wonder why it isn’t larger. Maybe this is a preview of wanting your child to be bigger, faster, stronger. I get very influenced by numbers, like the growing one on my scale. I was sure I was going to have a ginormous baby — my belly looks like it can hold twins. But I’ll take my medium to small package. Let him or her feed and grow another few weeks. Plump up. Fill out. Get ready for the real world.
I also thought my due date was Dec. 30 but I noticed on the chart it said the 28th. How did I miss that? Dr. L. said only 5% are born on the due date, and 95% a week before or after. So now I wait. The nurse said to start squatting and walking every day. Dr. L. made her usual grimace at any suggestion for making my life easier. Don’t bother, but it can’t hurt is her mantra. There is a 50% chance that she will deliver this baby. I’m not bothered this. I don’t think the doctor does all that much during labor, or maybe I’m fooling myself. I’m sure I won’t care who is at the receiving end when the time comes. Just as long as they get him/her out safely.
The growth I’ve experienced the past two weeks is almost shocking. T-shirts that fit not too long ago barely stretch over my belly. I didn’t feel like I was doing anything different. I figured it was typical eighth month growth — the baby is supposedly gaining 1/2 a pound a week. But then at my last OB visit, I learned I had gained six pounds in two weeks! My OB was not sympathetic. You’re eating too much, she said. No, not really, I said. I even keep a food diary because I had been gaining weight too quickly and it helped me keep things in check. But I really didn’t think — no, I know — I didn’t eat enough to gain six pounds in that stretch. Don’t eat that danish in the morning, she told me. What danish?? I haven’t even had a donut during this pregnancy. Okay, one day I asked R. to buy a cinnamon bun and I had a few bites. But six pounds?? Now I’m trying to not gain at all. The baby will grow without my ass growing, I suppose. And Dr. L doesn’t seem concerned about reducing the amount I’m eating (which really isn’t a ton, I swear). She is more concerned with me having a difficult delivery because of the extra weight (compounded by my vein problem). She said my metabolism is so slow now that I have to eat less. And just when I was getting hungrier.
My yoga teacher says that during pregnancy you have growth spurts. One day you wake up feeling uncomfortable with some new ache or development that you have to adjust to. After a week or so, you’ve adjusted and you might have a good week or two, and then one day you wake up uncomfortable in a new way. And it starts over. This used to happen every couple of weeks. Now it seems to happen every two days. I’m not sure what to expect during the next few weeks. I’m 35 1/2 weeks and 37 weeks is considered full term. A new anxiety is setting in — I’m less concerned with what is going on with my body and more worried about what is going to happen once the baby is here. I haven’t been able to sleep much at night — going to bed at 11pm but still awake, mind racing at 1am. I started taking Benadryl, the recommended sleep aid, and I’ll suffer through the grogginess if it allows me a few good hours sleep at night. I figure my mild insomnia is training for being up all night with a newborn.
Last night my parents commented on how knowledgeable R. was about labor and delivery. We figured after 20 plus hours of childbirth education we should know a thing or two. Was it too much? It felt like it but I’m glad we were exposed to two perspectives: the hospital view and the more natural view. If I had it to do over again, I would have spread the classes out over two months instead of three weeks (but that would have meant advanced planning which we know I’m not good at).
After the first Columbia-Presb class I was deflated, sure that I’d immediately be whisked down the hall to the OR (as they sharpened their scalpels) after an hour of labor because they needed my birthing room. Then we attended our last Real Birth class where Bonu, our instructor, walked us through what might happen at the hospital. I do feel that Real Birth does a fair job of emphasizing the advantages of a vaginal birth versus the quick route to c-sections (which has increased over the years). They also spend time outlining the pros and cons of having an IV (standard at most hospitals), continuous monitoring (standard at CP), induction, augmentation, pain meds and a surgical birth. The thing that annoyed me slightly is that they make you feel that if you have a c-section you’ve failed or succumbed to modern medicine. But I do feel more equipped to try to avoid one if I’m just not progressing as opposed to the baby being in distress.
Real Birth class ended by showing the dozen fearful couples a fifteen minute video called something like “Birthing in the Squat Position,” filmed in Brazil in 1979. The grainy, National Geographic inspired video brought back memories of old science films — the over heated classroom, the monotonous tone of the narrator, the ominous music, the head bobs. That is, until they started cutting away to female faces in distress, panning down to their hospital gown covered mid-sections, and their knees bent out in a squat over a sheet. The narration stopped and it became a montage with music of several women pushing out their babies while squatting. And they were big babies — about nine pounds — so they were big heads pushing through the openings. I wouldn’t say it was beautiful. It was natural, sure, and I can see how that position is advantageous, with gravity working in your favor and all. But after the last head pushed through I turned to Rob and said “A c-section doesn’t seem so bad, does it?”
Now, with all five classes behind me, I feel open to whatever will happen. It will be fine if I have a surgical birth. It will be fine if I have an epidural. I’ll be shocked if I have a natural birth. The closer the time comes (today is my official start of week 35), the less I care about “my” experience and the more I just want to deliver a healthy baby with minimal stress and fanfare.
On Thursday night we had our first childbirth education class held by Latifah, one of the nurses at Columbia-Presbyterian. That’s right, we are taking two series of childbirth classes. Latifah’s class is held at the doctor’s office for two three hour sessions in the evening (as opposed to the three five hour sessions at Real Birth). My gut told me it wouldn’t be that comprehensive and that it would focus on what to expect at the hospital. I was right on the second count, and I do think we are learning more about natural pain management at Real Birth, but I wouldn’t say Latifah isn’t comprehensive. Just fast. About eight or so couples sat around the 4th floor waiting room listening to Latifah present the very high school biology diagrams as she flipped them over a standing easel. The first shot I caught was of the crowning head sneaking down the cervix, fully dilated at 10 cm. Hard to imagine my body dilating that much. 10 cm. is pretty big. Measure it. It is.
We went around the room and introduced ourselves (only name, number of weeks and doctor (unlike the ten minute intro we gave at RB). But the quick intro was fine. After working all day, I’m sure most people felt the same as I did. I want to go home. Hurry up. Why is it so hot in here?
The instruction here was more clinical and some of it felt like review — always a good thing for retention. I wouldn’t want to forget what effacing means. And my fears were confirmed. Columbia is a high intervention hospital. They have a high rate of c-sections, as well as use of forceps and suction. As the evening wore on, I became more and more deflated about those natural childbirth options. Last week I had visions of rolling around the birthing room on my exercise ball, pacing the halls while leaning on R., trying out any of the numerous contortions Bonu, the doula at RB, taught us. Not at Columbia. Stay home as long as you can, Latifah said, because once you are checked in we hook you up to the monitor and IV. I felt like the dissenter in the class, raising my hand, righteously asking how they could keep you hooked up when, after all, wasn’t it best to keep moving in labor? To deal with the pain? To help move the baby down? She repeated, stay at home as long as you can. Yeah, I get the message. Since that night, I’ve almost resolved with myself that I won’t be having a touchy feely birth experience. Working with a doula seems pointless now. But maybe I’m just warming up to the idea of an epidural and allowing myself to not try to endure excruciating pain if I don’t have to.
But the philosophies of the two classes conflict and I’m a bit confused. I saw my friend, Eddy, yesterday and he recounted his wife’s three labors. The first was med-free — he admitted he thought they’d get a medal for doing it. And he admitted he was proud of their (er, her) effort, how she labored for hours with breathing exercises and elements from her yoga practice. But afterwards, he realized that no one really cared. That putting themselves through the drama didn’t garner them a prize. For baby number two, she decided to have an epidural as the pain was more intense. Eddy said it was a very different experience, that his wife was more present for him. Okay, I thought that sounded selfish, but I know he meant that the first time she was in her own zone. He couldn’t participate. She was checked out and he could only watch. The second time, she was present. They laughed, they went through it together. The third time they opted for an epidural as well, but not a doula as they had the first two times. He said he felt that the doula didn’t add much and that she was almost in the way. Knowing Eddy, he wanted to be as fully involved in the birth as possible. He’s one of those guys who really would give birth if he could. But it made me feel better knowing that this super couple had opted for the drugs. And that it worked out well.
During the last half hour of the class, each couple was handed a soft-bodied doll, fully dressed in layette and diaper. The mothers-to-be practiced various breastfeeding holds (I realized I have short arms). The parents-to-be handed the babies back and forth as Latifah scolded the men who failed to hold the heads and necks. We took turns undressing the doll, changing the diaper, giving it a sponge bath, dressing it again. By this time, I was exhausted, sweating, and my feet had swollen up like sausages. I committed my tasks in a haze. But R. took it all so seriously and it was very sweet to watch. He’d told me he’d never changed a diaper before, which I found hard to believe. But he handled the doll carefully, gently, and paid attention to everything Latifah said. At one point, we all sat back in our chairs, but the dolls had not yet been taken from us. Across from me, I noticed that one father had placed the baby doll at his feet. Another had scooted it under his chair. I turned to R. and he still held the baby in the crook of his arm, head supported. It broke my heart, but I was proud of him and glad that he will be taking care of bambino with me.
Yesterday R. and I attended the first of three five hour long childbirth classes at Real Birth in Manhattan. We were not happy about spending our beautiful fall Saturday (the first of three!) inside, taking notes and, horrors, possibly learning breathing techniques. R. is frustrated by “how much we have to do” and how he just wants to “enjoy” the weekend and how he feels as if he doesn’t “accomplish enough on the weekend.” I settle back in my roly-poly self, place an ice pack on my crotch, and wistfully remember feeling that way about week four in the pregnancy. I long ago gave up any feeling of productivity. Perhaps unkindly I reminded him that I’d been feeling the same way for seven months now and that in the future, once bambino arrives, our weekends (let alone weeks) will offer us even less free time. But he will have to see for himself. I feel that I have an unfair advantage in this child preparation thing. I’m living and breathing it. It’s still not a reality for him.
But back to the class. We spent the first hour or so introducing ourselves (about eleven or twelve couples) and I was happy to see that the December bellies looked about as big (if not bigger) than mine. I can’t help but compare. I feel so huge, I am sure I am a freak. Those women at prenatal yoga seem to be a bit on the small side, but at Real Birth the bellies suddenly seemed on par with mine. I felt a similar kinship that I had when I started a writing program a few years ago, or an all women writing workshop a couple years before that. My people! I thought. Sitting in the same room a bit lost as to how to go about accomplishing this thing in front of us, but no one needing to explain how we got there.
There was a lot of discussion about natural birth vs. pain medication. A few of the women were pretty militant natural birth believers noting that for years women gave birth without analgesics. I never thought I’d have an issue with pain medication — and on principle I don’t. But the more I find out about it, they more it sounds less desirable. Call me ignorant, but I had not idea an epidural left you numb from the waist down. So, after the epidural, no walking around. Which might not be a problem if you are in the active stage of labor. But I don’t like the idea of not feeling my legs. Of course, I don’t like pain either and I’ll have to see what appeals to me less at the time. I also have had bad experiences with anesthesia this past year — coming out of it my blood pressures dives and after one procedure I even fainted.
I like to think I will be brave during childbirth. But after watching what the instructor called the “mild” birth tape, I’m not so sure. Damn, it seems like a lot of exhausting work. I’ve been thinking about how to get through it. R. and I are arguing about whether or not to have a doula. I say yes, but he thinks they will interfere with the doctors. I know his greater fear is that this person will nudge him out as my main support. I know that won’t happen. I want someone there who isn’t going to lose their head. Who has been through it before and will guide us; who will let us know what the doctor’s might be about to do. I also like some of the stats: having a doula reduces the need for a cesarean by 50% and reduces the length of labor by 25%. I think those numbers are worth it. I don’t know why I am even arguing about this with R. Isn’t it ultimately my decision? I’m the one who is going to be giving birth. But I want him to buy into it so he won’t hate the doula.
Back to the class. We learned about fun things like the “mucus plug” and “bloody show.” One of the husbands told us that he’d worked in a hospital in high school and that his job was to hold the placenta bucket in the birthing rooms. He ended up going to law school and was one of the more squeamish in the class.
One woman said she had wanted a home birth but she has two metal hips and decided to give birth in a hospital in case one of her legs popped out.
One couple, the most enthusiastic about natural childbirth, smugly told of their plans to have a hypno-birth. The instructor, a doula, warned that while the hypnosis techniques might be helpful in the early stages it would still hurt like hell in the active stage. I could tell the woman did not like this feedback. Perhaps it was putting a crimp in her plans for a “beautiful experience.” I noticed they didn’t come back after our lunch break.
My conclusion after class #1: childbirth will be painful and bloody; it will hurt like hell and I will not care if my ass is exposed for all to see. I will probably not care if a sixteen year old is at the foot of the birthing table holding a bucket. I will probably be yelling for an epidural, and even requesting the ether they gave my mother when she delivered me (I don’t think they do that anymore). But I’ll also be relieved and thrilled when it is over, and the baby is lying on my chest (if all is well), screaming it’s head off, wondering what the heck just happened.
I read in some (stupid) article that by the end of the second trimester, I should have selected and purchased all the main baby apparatuses and that by the third trimester I should be putting the finishing touches on the baby room, say stenciling and hanging the mobile. What?? I didn’t feel comfortable even going into a baby store until a couple of weeks ago and when I finally stepped into Buy Buy Baby my head nearly exploded. Wall to wall bottles and pumps and onesies and cradles. Where the heck is it all supposed to go? My sister was with me and deftly led us to the Registry counter. This will be fun, I thought. With the handy checklist, it will all make sense. The first item Stacey told me I had to have was a fifty dollar Braun thermometer. “You’ll need it and you’ll need a quality one.” I recalled having bought one for a friend a few years ago and was sure I hadn’t spent more than ten dollars. I wondered if she’d ever used it, if I had offended her with my choice of low-end medical equipment.
We moved onto the bath area. We zapped the one Stacey had used when she had her first child about fourteen years ago. We were moving along fine until we got to the towels. Since we don’t know the sex, I scanned a cute yellow towel with a hood. And I decided I wanted organic. I didn’t want the scratchy, rough fabric to touch bambino’s skin. I’ve read a little bit about the chemicals and dyes in cotton fabrics and while they don’t do any proven harm, they can irritate and cause rashes. I’m really not a person who insists on organic, but now I want it. I hope this isn’t a preview of the overly protective mother I’ll be. I’m sure all caution will be thrown out the window after a couple sleepless nights and baby drool lining my shirt.
After the bath area, we moved onto bottles. R. and I had talked about glass, but what brand? I scanned in a couple thinking I’d do the research when I got home. Stacey and I then fell into scanning less intimidating items like swaddling blankets and fluffy hats. These I can deal with. By the time we made it downstairs to the heavy duty items (car seats, cribs, bouncy seats), we were exhausted. When we found the row of glider chairs, we sat down (next to a couple nursing mamas) and soothed ourselves with the back and forth motion. I hadn’t thought of getting a glider (a chair that glides back and forth with a matching hammock that does the same), but it sure was comforting. Stacey and I watched the tiny babies being fed. I marveled at the slim stomachs of the mothers only three weeks after birth. We cooed at the babies, who seemed ravenously hungry and dazed after the feedings.
We decided to call it a night and go get some pizza. I need to do more research online, I said, and fully intended to. I thought it would be easier in the store but it just made me want to crawl in a hole. At the registry counter I handed the woman my scanner and she printed out our list. It was nicely broken down into categories like Safety, Feeding, Bathing. We didn’t recognize half the things I had registered for — had we really scanned in so many little toys and fuzzy hats? I felt defeated. It was a random list and not too practical. But it was a start. I swore I would go straight home and correct it — remove the fluff and add some substance.
That was almost two weeks. I haven’t touched the registry, but I have researched items online. I think I’m getting closer to having a clue as to what I need. I still haven’t figured out where it will all go.