Monday, July 30, 2007

I Write Sins Not Tragedies

I would really love my 100th post to be about our big ol' beach trip, and I promise I will get to that (for the three of you who might care), but I couldn't stand to leave my last post hanging there all sad like that for one more day. But I also can't stop to write a real post right now because I'm trying to cram ten months' worth of creativity into one hastily finished short story for the Memphis Magazine fiction contest. Stacey got a group of us bloggers into this, and we're all in various degrees of scramble at the moment. I do have a tendency to wait for deadlines and usually operate pretty well under pressure, but I'm starting to realize that being under fire makes me more verbose than graceful and I can already feel my framed portrait of Hemingway seething his disappointment from across the room.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Top Expert

I have to admit, I'm a little disappointed in myself.

Because of my years of service at Mothersville, attending playgroups and breastfeeding support groups since Miss M was just a seedling, I figured I'd have the whole second-time parenting thing down. With total control over my choices, the birth would go seamlessly. Mr. Baby would emerge after five pushes and two restrained groans, just like those calm Scandinavian ladies in the birth videos.

Well, we all know how that worked out.

But nursing? After breastfeeding for almost three years and hanging around nurslings for a year after that, what could go wrong?

So of course, almost everything did. Mr. Baby's latch was abysmal, when he bothered to latch at all. I had to manually adjust every part of his mouth to get it into proper position, but I still couldn't do anything about his flippy little tongue and its refusal to lie flat instead of creating constant friction against my skin. I blistered almost immediately, which led to me taking advantage of his short, sleepy feeding times by popping him off me as quickly as possible. Thus resulting in a foremilk/hindmilk imbalance and a couple days of green diapers.

We got that fixed by accepting shorter, more frequent feedings, staying on the same side for a couple sessions instead of alternating each time. That helped him get more balanced nutrition, and also gave me more of a chance to heal. I also followed La Leche League's advice to use breastmilk as a topical treatment, and whenever possible I air-dried after a feeding. As I healed and Mr. Baby's technique improved, things started going more as I expected.

So then, of course, I woke up yesterday achey and feverish and with stabbing pains in my chest. I recognized the plugged duct symptoms right away, but unlike when I was nursing with Miss M, I didn't have a chance to stay in bed and rest all day. The Admiral had to go into work and Mr. Baby was in a foul mood, so I spent the day with him strapped on top of my sore boobs, my fever-pained back hollering the whole time.

Amazingly, that didn't seem to help much, although a perfunctory pause in front of the shower spray helped stave off anything more severe. I'm teetering on the edge of mastitis, but hoping that sheer force of will can keep me from infection. Because I know better than to think that copious amounts of knowledge will do me any good.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Big Sister Will Be Watching Over You

One of the most frequent questions we're asked these days, right after, "How are you feeling?" and "How is he sleeping?" is, "How is Miss M handling things?" But the answer to this last question is even less predictable than the others.

Miss M loves her brother. Loves him dearly. And, if not restrained on a regular basis, might just love him to death. Given the option, her face would never be more than 1.8" from his, her hands would always be stroking as closely as possible to his soft spot, and her feet would be pressed up against his so she could "measure them up."

And it's quite obvious that she loves her parents, too, although the ways she chooses to demonstrate this can vary from spontaneous kisses to an insane, frenetic limb-flailing that has gotten her permanently banned from the couch during nursing sessions. We're trying to be sensitive to jealousy issues, reminding ourselves that her misbehavior is often a form of settling. Most three-year-olds understand that negative attention is better than no attention at all, and she's perfecting the art of attention-getting.

We've also finally figured out that this tiny girl requires a massive amount of physical activity to keep her on an even keel. If we try to have a calm, quiet morning of cartoons and cuddling, she makes it until about 10am before taking on the demeanor of a cracked-out ferret. The Admiral can usually keep up with her, since they are, by rights, his spastic genes. But with the recent addition to our household and subsequent loss of downtime, neither one of us can quite muster the energy required to drain her tank every single day.

So the short answer to the question is, she's doing her best. And so are we. We're all adjusting in our own ways, whether that means taking naps when the baby does or screaming at the top of our lungs inside a moving vehicle.

Postscript: speaking of moving vehicles, Mr. Baby went a little feral on the way home from the lake last night. After trying in vain to soothe him with our voices, we realized that he was only quiet when Miss M was talking. So she talked to him, telling him an elaborate story for as long as her exhausted little self could manage. And it worked. He stayed calm all the way up until she fell asleep in mid-sentence. And I caught just a glimpse of how they'll be in a few years, able to comfort and amuse each other (when they aren't driving each other crazier than cracked-out ferrets).

Friday, July 13, 2007

And I Want To Thank You

Because I know I failed to inherit my mother's thank you note gene, I'm hoping that publicly acknowledging the people who have helped me out over the last few weeks will be at least a halfway acceptable form of expressing my gratitude. Plus it's always fun to play Academy Award Acceptance Speech, isn't it?

First off, and above all, I need to formally thank The Admiral. Not just because he, quite literally, helped bring this baby into the world, but because his support and very active assistance made having a homebirth possible. He overcame many of his own reservations and put his trust in my body and the skills of our midwives. Without that, I may have had a perfectly happy, healthy baby, but I never would have succeeded in reaching the goal of a perfectly happy, healthy birth.

Running a close second to The Admiral as far as making this experience possible is, of course, Cha Cha. Being a normal mom, she also had her concerns about her daughter giving birth in a non-hospital setting. Being my mom, she managed to suppress most vocal demonstrations of her worries. I still knew they were there, though, so it meant all the more to hear her say how moved she was by being present for this birth, and that she had been completely converted to the homebirth ideal. And that doesn't even begin to cover the three weeks that she spent entertaining a very, very active three-year-old during one of the tensest periods of our family's life. I knew she could tolerate the various philosophical whims of her daughters, but now we also know that the woman has infinite patience for Play-Doh parties and rock-picking expeditions.

And, well ... I don't have the words to thank Amy and Andrea. I just don't. I hope seeing me bouncing around ten days after an incredibly difficult labor shows them how much they did for me.

And now continuing in no particular order ...

I'm doubled over in gratitude for my store volunteers, who have not only been ably handling the daily duties of keeping Mothersville open, but have been taking extra care to minimize my urges to step in and direct operations from afar.

Since having Miss M, I've been blessed to befriend a messload of amazing women and their families, and having them for support, commiseration and much needed help during and after this pregnancy was a colossal gift. I'm nervous to call anyone out by name because I'll be mortally embarrassed if I forget anyone, but I do need to offer specific thanks to the food-bringers - Kristy and RJA (for the meals brought after the birth as well as the dozens provided during gestation, including whatever I managed to get down while my pregnant, flu-ridden, husband-in-Europe self was languishing on their couch), Stephanie (not only for bringing food - hotdish, even! - but for dragging people to my house to eat when I wasn't able to get out), Stacey (for honoring my deep-seated love of the empty carb), Katie (for bringing pie despite how miserably I failed her after her own delivery) and Amanda (it takes a good person to bring thrice-washed organic salad to a new mom she barely knows).

And thanks to you out there, everyone who has been reading the blog, offering your sympathy and good wishes as the situation warrants.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

My Last Two Weeks

(Yes, that's really a song title/lyric ...)

Trying not to get too hopelessly behind in documenting Mr. Baby's first weeks on the planet, although as a second child myself, I'm somewhat resigned to it. But in honor of hitting the two-week mark (um, yesterday), here are the first 14 days by the numbers.

1: times Miss M said she wanted Mr. Baby back in mommy's tummy
2: times I've been peed on (check with The Admiral for his own, higher count)
3: times I've been spit up on (counting the massive hurl on both me and Kristy - really no way to treat his/Miss M's future mother-in-law)
4: times a day I wipe goop from his tearduct-challenged left eye
5: people who have told me the birth story made them cry
6: average minutes needed for me to complete a basic trip to the bathroom, including the warming, filling and use of the peri-rinse bottle and spritzing of Sitz Spray
7: hours of possible daytime napping I squander
8: days needed to completely regenerate a nipple
9: hour of the evening we start bedtime
10: nights that he's slept at least 5 hours at a stretch
11: times a day Miss M asks to hold her brother
12: cloth diapers used each day
13: people who have held him
14: mornings I've woken up curled up next to his teeny body and thanked all universal forces that he finally made it here

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Welcome 2 The Dawn (Birth Story Pt. II)

And we now continue The Birth Story ...

Part Two

After making several rounds of Peggy Lee and Julie London, I thought I'd try to coax the babe out with some volunteer radio. You know what's on WEVL at 6:25am on Tuesdays? Techno. Thumpy, contraction-taunting techno. Back to you, Julie.

Not long after the sun came up, Miss M came stumbling into the living room. At this point, I was making noise during contractions, going from audible exhales to quiet groans. We'd prepared M as best we could for what she might see or hear during labor, and she didn't seem bothered by what was going on. She was very clingy to The Admiral, though, so we decided to wake Cha Cha up and turn over child-wrangling duties.

Poor Cha Cha. She was in a dead sleep when The Admiral went to get her. When she came into the living room, she was a trooper and went right into happy-cheerful-grandma mode. Problem was, I was just on the verge of transition and hearing a vocal tone in that register was like a rake on a chalkboard. Both Cha Cha and The Admiral claim I said, "Mom, I don't want to hear your voice right now," but what I very carefully chose to say was, "Mom, I need to not be able to hear what you're saying right now." I thought that was pretty diplomatic, considering.

Contractions had been getting more and more intense during this interlude, and I finally hit the point where I could no longer complete my dining room table laps and had to just stand in one place, grab the back of a chair, and moan out my exhales. When I started doing this, Amy and Andrea started bustling around, clearing space around me and laying out all the waterproof materials. They'd been assessing my dilation to that point based on my circulation and the location of my uterus, so I figured they had a good idea that I was getting close. Looking back, though, I think they just wanted to protect the rug in case my water broke.

I wasn't so much feeling pushy as just ready to be done with those really fierce contractions, and based on my sudden hot flashes and shakiness, I was pretty sure I was in transition. Amy pointed out that at some point, I'd probably have to get rid of my shorts, so that made me all the more encouraged that I was, if not at the final turn, somewhere in the vicinity. Glad that I'd thought ahead and closed the dining room blinds, I followed my urge to take off all restrictive clothing (i.e, all of it). This cued Miss M to take on one of her pre-assigned tasks, and she ran into her room and got a tiny little fan that she proceeded to use to cool me off. It was pretty damn adorable. For about 15 seconds, anyway. Then she got bored or freaked out or otherwise occupied and quietly went off with Cha Cha.

Saying things are a blur from this point on isn't entirely accurate. They're more dark than blurry, owing to the fact that my eyes were closed 90% of the time. I stayed in the dining room for a short while longer, but I suddenly remembered how soft and comfortable the bed had looked when I passed it on the way to my 319th pee, and I spontaneously decided on a change of venue. The bedroom was clean and light and airy and seemed like the perfect place to be.

I waddled into the bedroom and hoped that I could find a way to rest in between contractions. Problem with that plan, however, was that I couldn't get myself into any position other than standing or kneeling with my body straight up. Lying down just wasn't an option. Neither was being on my hands and knees, which I thought would help with the baby's position. I also became aware that, well beyond the intensity of the contractions, the pain in my back was getting stronger and stronger. The Admiral resumed his post from Miss M's delivery, with his fists firmly pressed against the upper points of my pelvis. Amy helped out with this job as well, when she wasn't busy doing other ... midwife things. I really have no idea what they were doing during most of this because, again, my eyes were closed. The Admiral mentioned afterward that Andrea had been sitting on my exercise ball at the end of the bed. I hadn't noticed that at all. At this point, the outer world was almost entirely aural.

They kept checking the baby's heart tones as often as they could manage, and as time went on, just about the only thing encouraging me was hearing that strong, consistent beat. After wandering around the bedroom and trying several positions suggested by the midwives, including sitting backwards on the toilet, I found my most comfortable spot. This involved standing in our teeny bathroom, hands pressed into the wall and arms straight ahead of me, trying to create a straight line of energy between the pushing in my arms and pushing out the baby. The crucial part of this set-up was The Admiral, who was stationed behind me with his hands pressing into my back. Because the bathroom is so small, he was up against the opposite wall (or so I thought; he later showed me that he was actually jammed up against the closet doorknob) so there was a lot more counter-pressure.

Amy and Andrea were paying close attention to my energy level, and when I seemed to be wearing out, they were right there to encourage and coach me. When I thought I was about to tip over from hunger, Amy appeared with a spoonful of honey. When my legs started shaking from standing too long, Andrea suggested I try moving back to bed and trying to push from my side or back for awhile. Sometime in here, I elbowed The Admiral in the head while trying frantically and unsuccessfully to find a comfortable side-lying position. I actually thought I'd hit Amy, but I heard her asking The Admiral if he needed an ice pack. I swear it was an accident.

Even though being in bed wasn't as comfortable for me, I actually found myself relaxing (or, more accurately, collapsing) and nearly asleep in between contractions. I also tried to keep focused by talking to myself, muttering words like "open," "release" and "strong."

But my back. Holy hell, my back. There was nothing else going on in my body that rivaled the pain in my back. It was searing, like flaming knives stabbing outward. When I wasn't bellowing incomprehensibly, the only words out of my mouth were, "MY BACK MY BACK OH PLEASE MY BACK!" The Admiral did his very best to accommodate my hollered requests, but I felt like I was taking up valuable energy and breath trying to detail where I needed counter-pressure when I should have been spending it on pushing. Andrea did suggest that I try holding in my urge to groan and focusing that effort on pushing instead, which did seem to help make the pushing more effective.

Or so I thought, anyway. After all that work, I couldn't imagine that the baby was very far away. I kept waiting to hear, "He's close! I can feel the head!" but I never did. Every time they checked my dilation, I could tell that the baby was still very high up. Sometimes there was still a lip of cervix, sometimes not. I deliberately didn't look at the clock, but I overheard the midwives discussing the heart checks and Andrea said something about 10:25. When I heard that, I wanted to cry. Three hours. I'd been at this three hours and I wasn't even close. Andrea asked me to lie down so she could get a good check, but it hurt so badly that I flipped over and scurried over the edge of the bed like a startled spider. (You have to clearly envision my giant contracting belly for that to seem as impressive as it was.) I believe it was Amy who then said, "Well she's still got spirit."

At this point, the baby was doing just fine, but I was feeling in distress. I fell to my knees at the side of the bed, in exhaustion and fear and supplication. I prayed. I choked back the urge to sob. The idea of a hospital transport flitted into my head, but I knew I could never make it sitting in a car for 20 minutes. I also knew that I'd be a very likely c-section candidate, especially after I gleefully accepted an epidural and all its back-numbing deliciousness. So some stubborn voice, way way back in my head, told me to just keep going. To trust that we were doing fine and that everything would be okay.

I got back up and into the bathroom, mentally if not physically stronger. I felt a small increase in the effectiveness of my pushing, and with one particularly strong push, I felt the massive sploosh of my water breaking. As did The Admiral, who was still stationed right behind me. (Although I dare say that a little amniotic fluid wasn't that bothersome after everything else he'd seen coming out of me over the last few hours. When we were in a more light-hearted mood, I observed that he had, in fact, been in the shit.) I was somewhat encouraged by this change, mostly because it meant that something was happening. The midwives also noted that I'd feel a lot less pressure now that the bag of water wasn't trying to get out ahead of the baby. And they were right.

But oh my motherfucking back. Andrea offered to try saline injections to relieve the pain, but having heard nothing but failing reports from other mamas who'd tried the same thing, I decided against it.

I think it was about this time that The Admiral pulled out the big guns. A few nights before, we'd watched Borat and, as much as I enjoyed the movie as a whole, there was one part that made me laugh out loud both when I watched it and any time afterwards that I thought about it. It was just one second of the movie, but it cracked me up. And I told The Admiral that, when labor got unbearable and I seemed like I wasn't going to make it, that I needed him to duplicate that scene for me. So there in our bathroom, after 11 hours of watching me trying to squeeze out a baby, The Admiral took it upon himself to cluck like a surprised chicken in a dropped suitcase. And in the middle of all that pain and frustation, I laughed.

The laughing stopped shortly afterward, though, when Amy came in to check the baby and we all heard something we hadn't heard before. No one said the word "deceleration," but after all those previous checks, it was easy to tell that the baby wasn't doing as well as he had been. His heart rate was noticeably slower. This time, Andrea's recommendation that I lie on my side wasn't a suggestion. And this time, I didn't resist it. I knew my comfort wasn't the most important thing anymore.

I got back in bed and onto my side. The Admiral had my back, Amy helped support my leg and Andrea was applying compresses and trying to guide the baby's head. I'd rest for about 20 seconds and then groan, "Okaayyy," which signaled everyone to get into position while I pushed. I was still yelling instructions on where I needed my back pressed while I heard Andrea and Amy calmly encouraging my pushing. I finally felt like I was getting close, like the baby was really coming. This was the part I'd been anticipating for four hours.

I pushed and pushed and pushed. I could feel the fullness of the baby moving down and without anyone telling me it was happening, I knew his head was nearly out. And then it was. The relief was so tremendous that I wanted to stop right there and rest for awhile, but the midwives kept calmly but firmly guiding me to continue pushing. Within a few more pushes, and with a feeling I can only describe as "blooop," he was all the way out.

And so, so quiet.

My eyes were still closed. All I could hear was the midwives telling me to talk to my baby, call him by name, talk to him. The Admiral's face was against mine, and I could vaguely hear him whispering that everything was fine, that the baby was fine. And we both called to him, "It's okay, Abraham. We're here. Abraham. Abraham. You're okay." I can't pretend I didn't think the worst. I thought what every parent thinks in that time when you're waiting for the crying to start.

After a very long minute, we heard the cries we'd been waiting for, and the midwives placed his still bluish body on my chest. Andrea explained that his umbilical cord had been wrapped around his neck. Twice. I didn't think there was a drop of fluid left in me after sweating for so long, but one heavy tear of joy and relief slipped from my eye.

Amy stepped outside and told Cha Cha and Miss M, who had been out back playing in the inflatable pool, to come in and meet the baby. Damp from the pool and red from the sun, they both tip-toed into the bedroom. I'm not sure whose face was beaming more brightly, although Cha Cha had the reflective power of tears on her side. I'm pretty sure my mother hugged me, and I'm positive she told me how proud she was of me. I wasn't prepared for how much it would mean to share that moment with my own mother, and I was so fiercely grateful that she had the chance to be there. (Later, Amy thanked her for her amazingly selfless involvement, saying that most grandmothers would have a very hard time staying away and taking care of the older child with all that baby activity was going on. I heartily agree, and will spend the next 8-12 birthdays and Mother's Days trying to express that.)

I think it was my Intro to Psychology textbook that said: if you want someone to fall for you quick, take them to a scary movie or ride roller coasters on the first date. The rush of adrenaline associated with fear can easily be mistaken for instant affection. I wouldn't say it was a glandular mix-up, but I would attribute the stress of Abraham's arrival with a prompter sense of bonding. It took me a little while to absorb Miss M, whereas as soon as Abe was handed to me, I was awash with all those motherly feelings, the primary one being protectiveness. It's not that I fell in love with him more, but I did fall in love with him faster.

I held Abraham while the midwives assessed how I was doing. I coughed out the placenta a few minutes later and was feeling pretty good, all things considered. But they were concerned about my bleeding, which mirrored the situation after the three hours it took to push Miss M out of me. They dosed me with arnica, both to help contractions and to deal with the already gruesome bruise blossoming on my lower back.

Again, the timing here is all a bit fuzzy, but I think this is when they checked the baby. They weighed him with the slingy-looking scale (I won the weight pool - 8lbs. even), measured out his little body (21" long, 14.25" head, 13" chest, 13.5" abdomen) and gave him an oral dose of Vitamin K. Because he'd spent so much time swimming around instead of descending, his head was a perfect little ball of a thing. He had a light dusting of dark hair, already threatening to curl. His eyes were blue, but a deep sapphire that seems likely to darken into brown but will be truly stunning if they stay as they are. He had a hint of his dad's chin cleft, just like his big sister. He was, quite simply, beautiful.

I, however, was a different story. The midwives helped me out of bed so I could attempt to pee, but that didn't quite work out. I was still bleeding more heavily than they wanted, so they gave me some herbs and, when that still didn't slow things down, I was blessed with a dose of Cytotec. Which apparently is more effective in suppository form. I've decided to spare you the details of my bottom's condition after all this, but let's just stop to acknowledge the un-funness of having anything go back into my body at this point. And the little bastards still didn't work!

During one of her checks on my bleeding, Andrea detailed the stickiness of Abraham's delivery position. He'd been posterior - face-up - but slightly turned to my left side. All he really needed to do was flip a quarter-turn to the right and he'd have been all set. But instead, he kept turning left. And turning, and turning. In what is called a "long arc rotation," he spun almost 360 degrees and ended up almost exactly where he'd started - still posterior. The only thing that keeps me from holding this against him his entire life is the knowledge that, in that big spin, he may have unwrapped one more loop of cord from around his neck. I don't think she was being at all dramatic or anti-hospital when Andrea said that this type of presentation was the most common reason for c-sections. She didn't suggest it, but I wholly believe that if I hadn't had this baby at home, I would have surely ended up in surgery.

After yet another discouraging check on my bleeding, I reminded Andrea that I'd been catheterized after M's birth because I'd been too swollen to pee on my own. I gave her permission to try again (forgetting that I'd had a local anesthetic last time, due to being stitched up). It was not a pleasant minute, but it did the job. With my bladder empty, my uterus could contract and the bleeding slowed way, way down. I could see the relief on both midwives' faces, both because I was going to be okay and, I dare presume, because this meant they could get some rest.

And, finally, that I could, too. With my baby at my breast, I laid in my own bed, with the sounds of my family around me, and went into a deep, bone-tired, blissful sleep.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

We'll Catch Up Some Other Time

I've been so busy trying to complete the birth story (how many different ways can you say "astronomical back pain"?) that I've been neglecting everything else going on. Not that there's a whole ton of things that the outside world would find fascinating about life with a newborn, but it's still been a fairly eventful week. I don't have the time or memory to go over them all, but some of the highlights are:

Day Four: Baby Blues hit full on. List of possible things that made me cry include: my parents leaving town, my physical inability to comfort the baby in any way other than nursing, the ferocious pain of nursing, the ferocious pain of just about everything, and the Leonard Cohen song stuck in my head.

The Admiral's mom and step-dad also arrive and begin their mission to fortify us with stunning amounts of home-cooked food.

Day Six: The In-Law-Mobile is broken into. In our driveway. In daylight. Welcome to Memphis!

Edited by gentle prompting to add: my badass friends moved our weekly childless lunch date to our house, bringing a glorious feast of Elliott's take-out right to our kitchen. The food was great, but the company was what really hit the spot.

Day Seven: I don't really remember anything specific, but hey, he's a week old!

Edited to add again: Der. This was our first big outing! My first trip out of the house in a week, and his first car ride ever. We went to Mothersville, of course, to crash the breastfeeding support group, which I actually needed to attend. Although as is always the case, (warning, Miss M has given the child an unbearably cute new nickname:) Mr. Baby was the picture of perfect breastfeeding while we were there. It did make me acknowledge, though, that I wasn't hurting as badly, and that healing up from those first few days let me notice that he was doing better.

Day Eight: We loosen our 18+ door policy and invite the legion of bloggers (and a Legion of Zoomster) over for a 4th of July party. Ten children, thirteen adults, two sprinklers and a very large pitcher of mojitos later, I'd call our first 4-person-family fiesta a success.

Day Nine: Andrea came by to check up on Mr. Baby and declares him perfect. Our biggest concern? The fact that he's sleeping so dang much. Nap for longer than 45 minutes? We didn't know babies could do that.

Edited to add more: he weighed in at 8lbs, 14oz. The goal is to have them regain their birth weight by two weeks. Guess that nursing thing is going just fine.