Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Parenthood Part I - The Birth

I'm finally sitting down to start writing about the journey into mommyhood. I'll do this in several pieces, since it would be a gargantuan post if it were all in one.

I started my maternity leave on Wednesday, April 2nd. I hoped that not too many days would go by before the baby was born, although I did have grand ambitions of getting the house clean and organized before her arrival.On Friday at about 7pm, I had the first indication that things were starting to happen - a phenomenon called bloody show. This means that labor will start soon, but "soon" might be hours or days. I told my husband that if he wanted any more pregnancy photos, he'd better take them soon, and we spent part of the evening doing belly pictures. We went to bed as usual, but while I was waiting to fall asleep, I felt a contraction. Probably just practice... but it was followed by another, then another, around 10 minutes apart. I waited a while to see if they'd keep coming, and they did, although not at precisely regular intervals. They were somewhat uncomfortable, but not too bad at all.

At around 2 am, I woke the husband, and we finished packing our Birth Center bag, I called the midwife on call, and we got in the car to head down to Wilmington to the Birth Center. When we got there, I was disappointed to find that I was only 1 centimeter dilated - in other words, I had a looooooooooooooooong way to go.

We went to my parents' house 10 minutes away, and later in the morning, contractions started to seem more intense, so back to the birth center we went. But still, I was only about 2 centimeters dilated! Still, I thought I'd feel more comfortable staying at the Birth Center; with each contraction, I could feel myself sort of fighting it even as I tried to relax, maybe because of some subconscious fear that if I just relaxed and let go, things would happen too fast. Maybe if I settled in at the Birth Center and made myself comfortable, things would speed up.So, for quite a few hours we stayed there - I laid on my side on the couch, then I sat on the birthing ball, then I kneeled on the bed with my arms holding me up on the birthing ball, then back to the couch with one leg hanging over the side to try to get the baby to turn around. She was facing my front instead of facing my back as would be ideal.

Eventually, Katie told me that I might want to reconsider camping out there, because I was still dilating only very slowly. Because the Birth Center is a short-term care facility, they can't keep a patient there for more than 24 hours. And if my labor didn't speed up, I might end up having to transfer to the hospital just because of the time limit. I hadn't known about that before, so back to my parents' house we went. The plan was to take some Benadryl and try to sleep for a few hours, to give my body a chance to rest before "real" labor began.This was sometime in the afternoon. I decided I would take a shower to try and relax, and then take the Benadryl. But by the time I got out of the shower, contractions were getting more intense and closer together. Instead of taking the Benadryl and trying to sleep, it wasn't long before we were heading back to the Birth Center. Now, just breathing wasn't enough to get me through a contraction; I had to hold on to something or somebody, especially if I was standing up when one hit. Trying to climb up onto the examining table was really difficult, because the change in positions caused a contraction, and on top of that I had the shakes. Katie said "That's good, the shakes usually mean you're at least 4 centimeters!" At this point, I didn't feel especially great about the whole thing, but at least things were moving along, and 4 centimeters it was.

After a bit, I started having a lot of pain in my back, and Katie suggested trying the Jacuzzi. I climbed in, and immediately felt better - the contractions still hurt, but the back pain in between contractions was gone, and I could relax more easily. My husband sat by the tub and held my hands during each contraction, and during the worst ones, he helped me stay calm by telling me to breathe with him. If I focused on trying to match my breathing to his, it helped me stay in control.

Time no longer had any meaning; contractions came and went, and I started to take mini-naps between them. They started to become further spaced apart, but more intense when they did come. Finally Katie had me get out of the tub because the contractions were slowing down, and because things were moving so slowly - it was early dawn on Sunday morning, and this had started Friday night around midnight!When I got out of the tub, I was getting ready to insist that I couldn't do this anymore and needed drugs to hurry things up and take away the pain. Katie told me that all women say they can't, at some point. But I think she was just about getting ready to agree with me. She examined me and said, "Do you want some good news, mama?" I nodded. "You're at 10 centimeters... you're ready to push this baby out!" I wasn't sure whether to sigh in relief, or to cry. Push? PUSH? You've GOT to be kidding me, my body said.

I didn't feel much like pushing; unlike many women, I didn't have the urge. Those muscles were just too tired. So it was a battle of wills, me against this THING that was stuck inside me and was the cause of all my troubles. Contractions were far apart, and sometimes I napped between them; sometimes I caught my breath and then got bored and tried pushing in between contractions. I tried different positions: sitting on a birthing stool (which terrified me because I was sure I would tear if I let her come out too fast), on the bed on all fours, on my left side, on my back. Peggy (one of the nurses) took a set of handles with rope attached - I held onto the handles and pulled, while she provided resistance. This forced my tired abs to help with the pushing, but it also made my arms tired. Katie and Peggy switched my iPod playlist from my soothing labor playlist to a lively, upbeat, somewhat random and eclectic selection. They were greatly entertained by my music collection; I was too tired to really be amused.

The shift changed; Katie left and Dorinda came in. I was getting really close now; a tiny patch of the head showed with each push, but I couldn't seem to get any farther. I switched to my right side, with someone holding my left leg up out of the way. They tried to motivate me by saying that soon I'd get to see my baby; at that moment though, I didn't care about any flippin' baby, I just wanted it to be over. Finally, the tiny patch of head got bigger, very slightly bigger, and I got mad. Godf*^&ingdamnit, I had had ENOUGH - if I had to rip myself in two to get rid of this thing that was tormenting me, I would do it. So I pushed like I was going to turn inside out, and that head slowly came out. I remember feeling that it was out, and realizing "Oh shit, now I have to get the shoulders..." but that wasn't so bad; another gargantuan push and she was out, and I can't really say what happened next; they suctioned her nose and mouth, she cried, my husband cut the cord, and then after a bit they put her on my chest.

I sat back against the pillows, and paid only minimal attention to what was going on around me; I vaguely remember getting a pitocin shot to help my uterus contract, and one last push to get the placenta out, and lots of other activity. But mostly, I was busy looking at my new baby. She was tiny, and wrinkly, but surprisingly pristine-looking considering what she'd just been through.

One thing that was funny about the birth is the music selection: I hadn't intended that particular playlist to be used during the actual birth, and the song that it happened to play at that moment is definitely NOT what I would have selected, but I was too busy at the time (go figure) to change it. It was Eminem. Slim Shady. Dorinda politely commented, "I've never birthed a baby to Eminem before." Apparently, this has become somewhere between a legend and a joke among the midwives at the Birth Center, since it's more usually folk music, or spiritual music, or New Age. Not... Eminem. Sigh.

But the important thing was, she had arrived, she was healthy, and... not least... I did it! I had survived a 32-hour labor!

Monday, June 9, 2008


Friday, Annika had her 2-month visit to the pediatrician. She's now 10 lbs, 13 oz., and nearly 24 inches; in other words, she's growing just as she ought to be, and the doctor was impressed by her muscle control and her vocalizing - while the doctor asked me questions, Annika carried on her own monologue of coos. I think she intended to distract my attention and re-focus it on her. It worked well, I have to admit.

But then, after all the happy fun stuff, she had her first round of vaccination shots. Four of them, in the thighs. Baby skin is tender, so maybe I shouldn't have been shocked and horrified when she bled. But I was. As soon as the nurse was done, I picked her up and held her, but that didn't do much to quiet the screaming. So I put her to my breast, and like magic, she stopped crying and nursed instead, and soon had apparently forgot her trauma. I, on the other hand, walked around for the rest of the day with a bloodstain on my shirt and an ache in my throat whenever I thought about it.

But I confirmed, then, that all the struggles I've had with breastfeeding, the pain and the tears and pumping and the exhaustion and questioning my own sanity and pumping and guilt and frustration and lost sleep and did I mention pumping? Yes, all of that (I'll write in more detail in another post) and finally I'm certain it was worth it. Because even though the breast isn't her only or even main source of food, it's the one thing that is guaranteed to comfort her. It's hard to even express how much that is worth.


Saturday and Sunday, I went on a dual mission of thrift-shop visitation. Both parts of the mission were driven by new-parenthood.

Part the first: to buy clothes that fit my current size and shape instead of bitching and moaning about how few of my pre-pregnancy clothes fit. I'm not going to go on any weight-loss diets while I'm breastfeeding, so unless I find the time and motivation to start working out, those pregnancy pounds will stay put for a while. Although I'd eventually like them to go away, I can accept the changes much more gracefully now that I have clothes that fit. At Impact! Thrift in East Norriton, I found several sleeveless tops, two skirts, and a pair of pants to expand my summer work wardrobe, and at the Philadelphia Aids Thrift just south of South Street, I found four pairs of pants, three tops, and another skirt. All this, for about $60.

Part the second was to browse the childrens' books section and find nifty books for young 'uns, but especially old books, the ones that I remember from my own childhood. I succeeded at both Impact! and P. A. T.; I found "The Little Engine That Could", "Robinson Crusoe", "A Fisherman's Tale" by Beatrix Potter, and some that aren't so old, or at least I don't remember them: an amazing pop-up book called "One Red Dot", an illustrated "King Arthur", and... Heather will be so pleased... my child's first book featuring a bat (Stellaluna).

I've started reading to Annika, and although she doesn't show much interest at this point, if nothing else it's good practice for me!

Monday, June 2, 2008

Two Months

Yesterday, Annika turned 2 months old. And today, I'm back at work... wondering whether it's too soon, or just soon enough. My mother in her wisdom warned me that the longer you wait to go back to work, the more difficult it can be, because babies get so much cuter and more interesting than they were at 4 weeks or 6 weeks. She's learned the art of the social smile and is starting to carry on whole conversations made of "oooh" and "aah!" and sometimes a high-pitched "eee!"

It feels odd to be typing with two hands, instead of holding Annika with one arm and typing with the other.

I've been planning to do a series of posts about the transition into motherhood: the labor and birth, the first two weeks, the next two weeks, the second month. So far, I have part of the birth story written, but it's not nearly finished yet (it's a long story). I finally decided that I should write something, anything, on the blog instead of waiting and trying to do posts in chronological order.

My brother Alex and his girlfriend Anne were in Delaware last week, and they were both delighted with Annika. Whereas my youngest brother was afraid to hold the baby lest he break her, Alex couldn't wait to gather her into his arms and coo at her. It was definitely "love at first sight" on Alex's part, and although it's hard to tell with a baby that young, it seemed that she liked him too.

Over the weekend, she had her first party at the grandparent Khavins' house. She was a big hit with everyone, but especially her great-grandparents. A cousin suggested that to keep everyone updated with the latest news and pictures, we should start an Annika blog. Before I actually had a baby, I would've thought that idea was silly, but now it seems to make sense - I've had a lot of requests for pictures, and a baby blog seems like the best way to disseminate them.