I will never let another pair of pants tell me I’m fat again.
This from the mouth of my friend Rachael, as she speared another piece of perfectly roasted cauliflower off of the plate in front of us. We met for drinks, Rachael and I, and as the fathers of our children readied our kids for bed, we ordered another cocktail.
I eyed that tiny plate of cauliflower with resentment. It was so good. And there was so little. What a tease tapas can be.
R’s declaration convinced me of what I already knew—I must go buy new jeans.
Oh, the ever changing expanse of the post partum body. I’ve been rail thin with huge boobs to very squishy and everything in between. The rail-thinness was the product of exhaustion, depression, and breastfeeding in my first four months with Jo. I remember being stunned by the sight of myself in the mirror after a shower–I finally had the body I’d been told to strive for. It was strange and thrilling to see it on me. And I enjoyed it, guiltily, like a $50 bill you find on a busy street. Does this really belong to me? I didn’t work for it. It simply came through suffering over those early months of becoming a mother.
My current squishy reality, were I to guess, is the product of going to dance class less, breastfeeding less, and a little practice I’ll call The Celebration. It starts around 8:30 most nights when the boys are in bed. AJ will make some popcorn. I’ll grab another glass of wine and the cheese puffs. And then we’ll trot out a pint of ice cream while watching some show on the computer. It’s such a miracle to Eat and Watch without having to share or explain to the children. To be left alone to make terrible health choices and then to fall asleep on the couch. Don’t ask about the couple weeks when I worked through a box of 24 Haagen Dazs ice cream bars.
The Celebration also unfurled itself during the first few months of my job. It was just so miraculous to sit, unfettered at a desk—no one needing a snack or crying or hitting. So I would buy a tub of dark chocolate peanut butter cups at Trader Joe’s and polish of half (or more!) in an afternoon. Partytime.
The women’s group I attend every month? It is an oasis. Smart, interesting, engaged women, their beautiful child-free homes, wine and food. Last month, when I walked in, I thought, “Get ready, self. Time to over-eat.” I do it every time. The Rosé and cheese platter and berries with homemade whipped cream are just so damned abundant and miraculous that I have to pack it in so that it will last until next month.
I’ve felt uneasy about The Celebrations, just as I feel uneasy inside my jeans. And it took writing this to really see it:
I’ve gone and confused food with relaxation.
One feeds my body. The other, my soul.
In the confusion, both my body and soul have gotten squishy.
When I’m experiencing a significant break, rest, respite from the relentlessness of motherhood, I pack food into myself. As though the food will tide me over until next time.
And then, instead of really sinking into the moment, feeling the rest, the support, the entertainment, I zone out on food.
This week, I’ve been reading Women Food and God, and I tripped over this sentence several times because it was such a zinger.
To discover what you really believe…pay attention to the way you eat. You will quickly discover if you believe the world is a hostile place and that you need to be in control of the immediate universe for things to go smoothly. You will discover if you believe that there is not enough to go around and that taking more than you need is necessary for survival.
Guess which one I am, piling more sesame noodle salad onto my plate at my woman’s group like it’s the last meal I’ll see for days?
So, I’m turning over a new leaf. The concept of mindful or intuitive eating. I learned about it from this insightful TED Talk, and while at first I was left laughing off the possibility of mindful eating, it’s been surprisingly helpful in practise:
I eat what I want when I’m hungry. Eat till I’m full. If I’m not hungry, and I want to eat, pause the food train and be in the moment.
It’s felt like a homecoming to listen to and trust my body.
I wasn’t sad to see you go, but saying goodbye last week stirred up some feelings for me.
I know it won’t come as any surprise that I have a love-hate relationship with you. Remember how much I didn’t want you either time? And yet both times, I wound up profoundly grateful. You stepped up when I needed you to. You yanked me up from the flat heaviness. So thanks. You’re really good at that.
I’m sure you knew it was coming, so here it is—I have a few bones to pick. I’m not sure if you’re open to feedback, but since we’ve had such close relationship on and off for the last 5 years, I feel pretty qualified to give it.
Do you think it’s really necessary, when lifting someone from the pit of despair, to simultaneously smash their already-ailing libido down into the mud with the heel of your boot? I’m betting you’d have a way better reception with, say, every depressed and anxious person on earth if you could figure out how to focus on the job you were invited in to do rather than mucking around with one of the most basic and sublime pleasures of life.
And another thing: I think you should consider listing anxiety much more prominently as a side-effect on your label. That way, I would have felt less like a strung-out psychopath trying to explain my symptoms to the pharmacist.
“Hmmm,” she said, eyes scanning down the computer screen. “Nope. I don’t see anxiety listed here as a common or uncommon side effect.” (I can see how she missed it, since when I looked, I also scanned right past it; it was tucked near the bottom of a laundry list of delights like “loss of bladder control” and “unusual secretion of milk.”) She read the list for me, none of which I identified with until the last. “Mask-like face?” she asked. “Is that what it feels like?” Well, sort of.
So here’s the deal, Zoloft. After I started taking you the second time, my body started to feel like it was constantly in a war zone. Twitchy. On-guard. The muscles in my arms, hands, face and neck were taught and achy, my mind sharp and over-alert. So sure, mask-like-face covers a bit of that, but how about just bumping anxiety up in the list, or maybe adding body-like-a-war-zone? I know you’ve probably heard this before, because after I left about 300 phone messages and finally found a psychiatrist who specialized in post-partum mental health and was covered by my insurance, (BLESS HER) she told me that anxiety is a relatively common side effect of Zoloft.
Believe me, I know there’s a lot more to you than potential for anxiety, but you might as well be up front about it so that people like me and their pharmacists aren’t so ill-prepared, you know?
I really appreciate you reading this far – if you have – and let me please re-iterate that I really also appreciate you. Small, green, ovoid you. Once we sorted out all the anxiety stuff this last time, you really did the trick. And while I’m glad I don’t need you anymore, I have to remind myself that we may meet again.
I also want to acknowledge that I know it must be hard for you. I mean, you’re this awesome little pill that saves people from deep dark pits of hell and yet tons of people dread you and talk smack about you because we tell ourselves that you are a sure sign of our failure. That must really suck, since Tylenol and antihistamines and others in your cohort don’t really get that reaction. I’m sure you wish we could just see you more like that—a tool for coping with a symptom. Just so you know, I know that’s what you are. And I’ll have to remind myself of that if I need you again. But I hope I don’t. Because—no offense—I will feel like a failure of a person when I’m filling my prescription for you. Anyway, just know that I realize that’s my stuff, not yours. You really are good at your job. I know that. Lot’s of people know that.
Thanks for reading. I do hope you’ll consider some of my suggestions. And thank you, really, for all your help.
My most recent doula client, Maude, had an incredible birth. She hoped to have her baby at home and labored there with grace and vigor for a day.
Three hours into pushing, she made the decision to transfer to the hospital. Within an hour after getting there, she pushed her baby out to discover, much to her surprise, that it was a girl. We all sighed with relief that we wound up at the hospital, since her daughter needed some help with her breathing at the NICU. She later developed some other complications that resulted in her transfer to a NICU at a nearby children’s hospital. When I met with Maude 2 weeks after the birth, her baby girl was healthy and happy and at home. As we watched Baby Girl nap peacefully in her swing, Maude launched into a passionate recounting of her experience at the NICU. It was so moving and real that I invited her to write a guest post here. I know that her experience is not an isolated one. I also know that her story and candor will be eye-opening at the very least and validating and inspiring to those of you who have spent time in NICU-land.
I feel obligated to start by saying this: I am grateful beyond words that my daughter is alive and well. She may not have been, had the skills of the NICU staffs of two hospitals not been so competent. And I shudder to think of what might have happened to our family had we given birth in a country or part of the United States where medical care is not so advanced or covered by health insurance (kind of) or accessible to nearly anyone. I am grateful that she will likely not experience any long-term disability or complications from what happened at her birth. I am GRATEFUL for her stay in the NICU.
I am flabbergasted, horrified, and raging mad.
I say “her stay” in the NICU on purpose… For it was made clear to me early on that this was HER stay in the NICU, not ours. The person who was INSIDE OF ME 24 hours ago was now considered a separate being, whom I was supposed to turn over to strangers to care for while I tried to mentally comprehend her medical issues, communicate these to our loved ones, and take care of my throbbing body that had just experienced the most exhilarating, intense experience of my life.
Upon admittance to the NICU, my husband and I were told our daughter was allowed two visitors at a time, and we counted as visitors.
I wanted to shout, “I am her MOTHER (even though this concept was only a few hours old to me). Her MOTHER!!! She lived inside me a few days ago. No me. No her. Get it? I am NOT A VISITOR. I am an integral part of her care and well-being. I am like the ventilator to which she is attached. I am like the bed on which she is lying. I am (literally) like the feeding tube that is trailing down her throat. I am an indispensable part of her medical care!”
The system in which we found ourselves did not see it this way.
The system saw me as a visitor, at best. At worst, I was an intruder, a distraction, an obstacle to my daughter’s healing. The NICU was a large, open, fluorescently lit room lined with cribs and bassinets on all four walls. There was no privacy for our family to talk, to cry, to sleep, to figure out what the hell just happened to us. There wasn’t even a place for us to sit down at her bedside.
We tried to retreat to the “waiting room” where we often encountered unfortunate families who spoke loudly, using profanity, about who they were preparing to “fight” upon return to their home communities.
We tried to retreat to the cafeteria, but it was loud and cluttered, and sometimes it was difficult to find a clean table. Plus, it was on a completely different floor from my daughter. I didn’t like being so far away.
We even tried to retreat to the chapel, but the chaplain (!!) told us that sleeping in there was inappropriate. Sleep was all we needed. I can pray anywhere.
Most of the nine days we were there, I had to fight to remain by her bedside and not feel like a distraction to the medical professionals attending her. On the first night of her stay, five doctors came in for “rounds” where they discuss the patient. One of the doctors asked me if I had questions for the main doctor. I asked her about seven or eight questions. The other doctors started fidgeting, annoyed at having to stand and wait through my questions. Finally the nurse jumped in, “You’ll have a chance to talk to the doctors again in the morning.” I guess I asked too many questions.
One reason I was treated as such an anomaly in this particular hospital occurred to me slowly, over the nine days of her stay. This particular hospital tends to serve many “Medicaid” (read: poor) patients. Why they are funneled to this hospital is a mystery to me. Why their children need intensive care is not. In the NICU there are mainly premature babies, many of whom likely did not receive adequate prenatal care or nourishment. This NICU is used to poor parents. Poor parents tend not to ask questions. They may be intimidated by medical professionals. Poor parents rarely have the luxury to stay at their child’s bedside all day. They have to go to work. So the NICU has developed policies, facilities, and protocols accordingly. And naturally, the staff there were ill-prepared for my borage of questions and constant attempts to stay at the center of what was happening to my daughter.
This makes me RAGING MAD. Poor parents and their children deserve the same kind of care as any other family. They deserve everything I want and am about to ask for.
1) Deliberate coaching on pumping breast milk.
It was 2:00 am on the first morning of her stay in the NICU. (I elected to spend the night, even though there was not an adequate place for me to sleep in any restorative way. Leaving my daughter in the hands of strangers while she was 36 hours old while I went home to my bed empty-handed just didn’t seem doable to me.) I said to the nurse that I wanted to learn how to pump breast milk. This fabulous nurse called her friend from another unit to come over and help me in the “mother’s room” (a hideous, windowless closet with one, overhead fluorescent light and a breast pump with no instructions). The friend came and showed me how to operate the machine and set up the plastic flanges on my breasts. She gave instructions to pump every two hours. As a result, the nurses were eventually able to administer my milk to her via a feeding tube instead of formula, and I had an established milk supply several days later when my daughter was allowed and able to nurse.
Every new mother should be offered pumping instruction in her first visit to the NICU. She shouldn’t have to remember to ask.
2) A clean, private place to use the bathroom.
After a woman has given birth, going to the bathroom is a new experience. New moms often have stitches, either in their abdomens or in their vaginas. A filthy, windowless hospital bathroom is not a place to care for open wounds. New moms have supplies they need while in the bathroom. Placing my bag of said supplies on the filthy floor of the bathroom stall (upon which I KNOW someone vomited less than 24 hours ago) is not hygienic. So I balanced the heavy bag on my shoulder while tending to myself.
New moms need sanitary napkins, ice packs, garbage cans within reach of the toilet, spray bottles, glasses of water with which to take their prescriptions, and toilets that are higher than normal so we don’t have to squat so low. In short, we need private bathrooms.
3) A clean, private place to eat.
I was told upon arrival to the hospital that it is critical that I eat a lot and eat well to establish and maintain milk supply. In the next breath, I was told I was only allowed to eat in two places: the waiting room (aforementioned disaster) and the cafeteria (on another floor from my kid). I was also told that I was afforded one meal per day from the hospital. They would deliver this meal to the NICU, but I had to transport it to an “eating area” to consume it.
4) Have a doctor say to me, “You are an integral part of your daughter’s wellness and healing.” (And have said-doctor believe these words.)
I fear the neonatologists and other doctors were not trained (or forgot) that the presence of a neonate’s mother is CRUCIAL to her surviving and thriving, especially when in critical condition. Doctors certainly did not express this verbally, and the facility in which they work does not express this non-verbally. I was given small squares of fabric that I was to wear close to my body and then place in her bassinet so she could “smell me.” Guess what? If I STAY IN THE ROOM with her, she can smell me too. I found these fabric squares to be insulting. If I were provided a CHAIR to sit in, I might feel more welcome to stay.
5) NICU spaces should be designed to encourage family participation.
Having nowhere for a mother to sleep, breastfeed, eat, or even sit sent me the message, “Go home. We’ll call you when we’ve healed your child.” Having this exclusion constantly rained down upon me made me want to strangle the medical professionals who designed this standard of care. I absolutely could not go home, at least not for the first 48 hours. After that, I felt so defeated that I started to force myself to go home each night. There was literally nowhere for me to be at my daughter’s side.
A nurse said, “You should go home to rest and be ready when your baby does come home.”
I smiled and nodded at the time, but that comment has gnawed away at me. Some of my friends would mention that at least there was the silver lining of me having some extra time to rest. I adore these friends. And I know they were just trying to say something kind. And I feel compelled now to share why the concept of resting at this particular time is a complete crock.
If you think you don’t sleep well when your first-born daughter is cooing or crying in the bassinet by your bed, try sleeping with her 15 miles away in the care of a stranger. That, my friend, is the definition of NOT sleeping well.
Coming home was not restful. My husband and I followed the same, breathless routine upon arrival home each night. After crying and shaking and heaving in the car the whole way home, I would peel myself out of the passenger’s seat, walk in the house, strip off all of my clothes (which were filthy, thanks to the condition of the hospital) and proceed upstairs to start pumping. My husband would throw all of our clothes into the washing machine, and provided the hot compresses, cold compresses and all supplies necessary to kick-start a milk supply with a breast pump in the absence of an infant. I would call the hospital to check in with the night nurse about how my daughter was doing, remind them that we didn’t want her to be given a bottle or pacifier or formula, and thank her for taking care of my girl. After pumping for 45 minutes, my husband would take the expressed milk and my plastic pumping supplies down to the freezer. I would set the timer on my phone for two hours, and my husband and I would wake up to repeat the process. Somewhere in there he would bring up the newly cleaned clothes for us to wear again.
I want to see a standard of care that acknowledges the neonate and mother as one unit. When a father or partner is in the picture, this person should also be included in the unit. These two adults are not visitors. They are pieces of the child’s care plan that are indispensable.
I want to see individual rooms for neonates and their parents. Period. With bathrooms, eating trays, and windows, just like other patients in the hospital. If neonates could talk, I’m sure they would request the same.
I must finish where I started. I am grateful. I realize that my girl’s stay in the NICU was very short by most standards. She was born at full-term and therefore was able, eventually, to breastfeed well. All things considered, she recovered quickly. I’d like to think at least part of this is due to my fierce wrangling to be there, to advocate, to do everything I could to keep her healthy in the ways that felt right to me. And I feel deep gratitude to the to the skillful nurses, doctors, and researchers who contributed to her wellness, the manufacturers of products and drugs she used, and the millions of babies who went before her to pave the way with knowledge and skills to help heal her particular illnesses.
I want better. I want better for families of means and families without. I want better for moms who don’t know how or what they should ask, and I want better for moms who are pains in the neck and ask “too much.” I want better for all babies.
There are moments of sweetness I can hardly describe. The kind of sweetness that aches, that wraps its tiny fingers around your heart and squeezes a little bit too hard. It’s the sweetness of endings and beginnings. Of beginnings as endings.
My sister had a baby this week, and I was there. She rested her head on my shoulder as she slumped her back forward to receive an epidural. I rubbed her feet and laughed with her while we waited. I was there, and I looked into her face while she collected her energy and courage between pushes. Her face calm, fierce, focused.
Today is Jo’s last day of preschool before summer. I lingered with Cal at circle time and listened while Jo’s teacher told him and his class about the treasure hunt. All those smooth, soft, warm 3 and 4 year olds sitting cross legged on the carpet, listening.
“There might be times when you’re hunting that you just want everything. When you see a big pile of treasure and you want it and all the treasure in the world for yourself. When you feel that way, you can put your hand on your heart like this and say, ‘I have gold fever.’ When you have gold fever, it’s a good idea to slow down, and come in to the snack table and have a little bit of water, and maybe a snack. And then you can put your hand on your chest again and say, ‘There’s enough treasure for everybody.'”
As I sit here, writing this, Jo is probably surveying his gold, nestled in his treasure bag, or digging deeper into the sandbox for more booty, or treating his gold fever with some celery and hummus. And my sister is probably looking down at that new girl of hers, cupping her tiny head in her palm, smoothing her black hair down with the rhythmic stroke of a thumb.
Time is passing, just flowing right through. It brings babies, it takes childhoods, it grows chickens and firmly closes doors behind us. No more preschool. No more pregnancy. But this now. Treasure hunting. Newborn nieces. Tree limbs arcing up to sun and wind.
The passage of time is not lost on us. But we get lost inside it sometimes. The monotony can be a real trickster. Today is the same as yesterday. Time for the Wednesday routine again. Wake, run around, sleep, repeat.
Thank goodness for endings. And beginnings. The bookends of time. They hold us upright and keep us honest. They remind, with their firmness, that things can change. Sisters can become mothers. Boys can become treasure hunters. Life can be unbearably good.
For some bonkers reason, pregnant women are given a due date of 40 weeks after the first day of their last period, even though the average day of arrival for first and second babies hovers around week 41. So, odds are that if you know a pregnant lady, it’s likely she’ll go past her due date. And odds are, if her due date is looming, and you happen to like her, you’re going to wonder what’s going on. You’ll want to text or call her to see how things are going.
It’s quite likely that without meaning to, you’ll say something that makes her feel like this:
Never fear, dear readers. Now you can be spared from making this easy mistake. I have two friends who just had their first baby (2 weeks past their due date, surprise!) and they came up with this easy way to determine if your comment to the very pregnant woman is worth putting out there.
It is very simple.
This is it:
Your comment should end in a period, not a question mark.
YES: “We’re thinking about you so much and are here if you need us.”
NO: “Do you need anything?”
YES: “I’m so excited to meet the baby.”
NO: (And this is quite possibly the biggest no of all.) “Baby yet?” or “Any baby?” or any question remotely like this.
Quite simply, waiting to go into labor can be ridiculously unnerving, and while it’s lovely to know that the people you love are thinking about you, it sucks to feel required to talk to them or to answer stupid questions. If you convey your support and curiosity in a statement, then your pregnant lady has the choice of whether or not to get back to you.
So keep those comments confined with periods, people. That way, you can rest easy knowing that you didn’t annoy the crap out of her and that she knows you’re one of the supportive and thoughtful ones.
One of the hardest things about the dance I’ve been doing with my depression over the last month is that I feel like I came out the loser in some sort of competition I didn’t even know I entered.
I was so hoping that this time I’d be able to set things up in just the right way to not have to experience this. Enough meals in the freezer, connections with friends, supplements in their little day of the week cubes–enough preparation and I could just avoid having to feel the feelings that are hardest for me.
What happened to land me here? Things were going so well. I was sleeping (and still am!). Baby C is still so much easier than J was. I’m still taking all the fish oil and vitamin d and placenta pills.
There are a whole bunch of stories I could tell, theories that I have for why I started feeling depressed in the first place. In the end, though, it doesn’t really matter. Because about a month ago, right when I wrote this post, the flat, heaviness that is my depression started to roll in.
After a week of feeling its ebb and flow, I opted to go back on my Zoloft. That was a hard day–not unlike this day, before baby C was born when I had to let go of having him at home and pack for the hospital. My decision to go the pharmaceutical route again was another moment of surrendering to reality. I cried to my dear friend M on the phone, saying, “I hate feeling this way.” And she said, “Well, you don’t have to for long.” The truth of that statement was sobering. There is something I can take that helps this feeling go away and helps me perform the myriad duties that my children and life require of me. So why was I feeling so resistant to filling my prescription?
Some time since I stopped taking the Zoloft that helped me cope with J’s infancy, my brain decided that if I didn’t need the Zoloft this time that I would win.
After turning that thought over a few times and recognizing it as a complete piece of crap, I started accepting reality. I needed and wanted help.
So my little green pills are back. And they’re helping. And I feel really good about making that decision to help myself and, in effect, the people I love, so that I don’t get so stuck in my weepy, catatonic, existential place. It’s a relief all around.
Today also happens to be Jo’s 4th birthday, and the marker of the day I became a mother. Happy birthday, little weasel. And happy birthday to me.
Since breastfeeding (“Giving C some boo boos” as J likes to say) is something that I am once again doing, say, 10-15 times a day, I figured I’d share a few of the tips and resources that have helped me navigate my cumulative total of 3.5 years of boo boo feeding.
1. The “laid back” breastfeeding position. I discovered this when I visited Janaki at East Bay Lactation Associates in the midst of the breastfeeding crisis I had a few years ago with J. I was worried about my milk supply and we’d been supplementing with formula and J just seemed, in general, unwell. In the hour I spent with Janaki, her kindness, wisdom and humor sunk into my tired self like a salve. And she showed me the “laid back” position. It changed everything for J and me. I’ve been using it with C from the beginning. It magically turns breastfeeding into the relaxing break it was meant to be. Here’s me, a few days ago, all laid back in our front yard. Yes, I breastfeed in our front yard.
The great thing about this position is how easy it is. You…uh…lay back. Wherever you happen to be. Couch, chair, bed. Prop yourself up with as many blankets and pillows as you need to be 100% comfortable relaxing every muscle in your body. Really. Every muscle. Janaki told me that you’ve done it right if you could fall asleep in that position. Then drape your babe across your abdomen diagonally, so that you’re belly to belly. I like to position C so he has one leg on either side of my leg, sort of horsey ride style. Then you just support the baby’s upper back, where their shoulder blades are, with your hand. When you support them like this with firm pressure, babies gain some leverage and are able to move their heads more freely to initiate the latch. (The same way that sit ups are easier when you brace your feet under the couch.) Then you sit back and relax. That’s it, folks.
This somewhat upright position makes it easier for babies to feed, instead of having them in those perfectly horizontal positions that breastfeeding pillows encourage. (Would you rather guzzle down a big glass of water laying flat or propped up?) It also has the extra added benefits of giving your tired mommy arms a break, giving tired mommy a break, and making it more pleasant for your baby to breastfeed, since you’re a relaxed mommy. So throw your breastfeeding pillows out the window, ladies, cause all you need is to lean back!
2.Kelly Mom. By far the best online breastfeeding resource out there. If you have a question, they have a helpful, well-resourced article on it. Like this one that helped us navigate our first bottle feedings with both C and J. Or this one that helped me through a painful bout of mastitis that I had when J was 2.
3. If you have a partner (or a really generous friend) and a baby who will take a bottle, and you want help with night feedings to get more uninterrupted sleep, consider how your Crock-Pot could help.
Here’s a how-to on how to duplicate our life-saving, DIY, middle-of-the-night, on-demand bottle warmer:
As a parting shot, I have to share this sketch. A year(ish) ago, I audited a birth class for my doula training and gaped over the shoulder of one of the dads in the class as he whisked his pencil ever so lightly across the page and created this gem in a couple minutes.
When you’re breastfeeding, think of it like your baby is at a bar. You don’t want her to just occupy a stool at the bar, you want her to get drunk.
So go forth, lay back and get ’em drunk, ladies.
We’re picking up, right where I left off last time–in the hospital, having rhythmic and mild contractions after taking Misoprostol and feeling vindicated for choosing to be induced after the baby’s heart decelerations returned with my contractions. Between the oxygen and IV fluids they gave me, the baby recovered beautifully, and we all tucked in for some sleep around midnight.
Four hours after I took Misoprostol, the doctor suggested that we add Pitocin to my IV drip. My cervix had dilated to 2.5 centimeters with the help of the Miso, and Pitocin would likely continue that process. If the baby had more decelerations, we could always turn the Pitocin down or completely off (which is not an option with the Misoprostol pills). She made this suggestion at 2:00 am. My partner, A, asked her if we could start the Pitocin in the morning, after more sleep and some breakfast. “Sure,” she replied, casually. And with that, he earned me 4 hours of sleep and a big plate of eggs, bacon and toast to fuel my labor.
(Why a doctor who specializes in helping women have babies would not think of this small adjustment on her own, I’ll never know. But I’ve found in my own births and as a doula that when you ask if you can have more time to make a decision or, say, a few hours sleep, or some food before engaging in one of the most taxing experiences known to human kind, the doctor often says “Sure.”)
My doula, C showed up at 9:00 am. We started Pitocin at 9:45, and contractions were strong enough that I wanted to get out of bed by 11. My preferred method for coping with contractions: I wanted to be on the birth ball, leaning back into someone. With each contraction, I would go limp and slump forward into a still, silent lump. And then I would just tunnel into my uterus. The center of all that pain and energy and power. I would think of lightening.
I’d envision this.
It’s a card from a deck of goddess cards my friend A gave me—and when I’m feeling particularly lost or confused, I’ll draw one. So that’s what I did before we started the Pitocin. I happened to draw the Mayan goddess of childbirth, Ixchel (whose name I still don’t know how to pronounce). Score.
Between contractions I felt pretty blissed out. I’d look around at my midwife, my doula, the nurses and tell them all how beautiful they were. At one point, I smiled and cooed, “I love pitocin.” (I’d also like to mention that I knew to look for the bliss between contractions because of Nancy Bardacke’s masterful way of explaining labor in pages 86-89 of her book, Mindful Birthing.)
When contractions got stronger, I got into the shower with A and did my whole birth-ball-still-and-silent thing. When we got out of the shower at 2:35 pm, I confessed to my doula that I was starting to want the labor to be over—and she said, “Yeah, since you got into the shower your contractions have started to space out a bit, so I think you’re having more time to think.” Somehow, that helped.
Ten minutes later, at 2:45, they checked me, and my cervix was dilated to 5 cm. I know better than most that dilation numbers are meaningless–women can stay at 5 cm for 10 hours or go from 5 cm to having a baby in their arms in 30 minutes–but I was still deflated. Then I had a fierce contraction while I was lying in the bed. It wrapped all the way around my hips and down my legs. When it subsided, I told my doula, “That one made me want an epidural.”
With that, I got out of the bed, back on the ball, and thus began the “never-ending contractions” portion of my labor. They rolled in, one after another, hardly a break between. And my still, silent meditation became the still, bellowing moose meditation. It was mind-blowing. To be certain, there was no time to think between contractions.
Fifty minutes after my 5 cm cervical check, and I heard my own power moans turn into pushy grunts. With the first mammoth grunt, my water broke. My midwife laughed and said, “The baby’s right there,” and I reached down and felt the wet toadstool squish of head. In the next few moments, in the stillness between contractions, and as I felt my body gathering up its power into pushing the baby out, an earth-shaking awe flooded my senses. It was as close to terror as I’ve ever been without being terrified. I was laying back, head turned to the side. I could see my doula’s blue eyes and the black plastic side of the computer screen next to me. My eyes were focused to the tiniest pinpoint and wide, all-encompassing, to take in the gravity of the timeless, massive, awe-inspiring place where I was. My body trembled on the edge and at the center of a shocking and immense moment beyond time.
I pushed with my own instinct and then with the urgings of my midwife. And in 6 minutes, I felt this immensely hard, huge, lumpy head fill up and then come out of my vagina. (There’s really no other way to put it.) And then I pushed out a shoulder. And then I opened my eyes and reached down to grab this warm slippery thing, and bring his body up to my chest.
And that’s how it happened.
Had I known beforehand that this is the birth I would have–in the hospital, induced, pitocin, the works–I would have cringed with disappointment and sadness. On this side of things, I feel aglow and triumphant. What a tumble into the space of letting go! Once I was able to shed my own hopes and expectations, I was just left with what was:
my steady and balanced partner A, who should really consider moonlighting as a doula
the doula of my dreams, C, who helped me through with her presence and humor
my midwife, with her remarkable skill and empathy
a rotating array of hospital nurses, midwives and obstetricians, all of whom listened and worked with us towards the birth we wanted
1) I had 5 hours of uninterrupted sleep last night. My dearest A. took the first nighttime shift with my new dearest baby C. who is taking a bottle like a champ.
2) Rather than trying for 2 hours to put C. to sleep between the hours of 5 and 7 a.m., I just held him this morning and dozed off and on. In the end, when my dearest 3-and-3-quarters child, J woke up at 7:20 a.m., C was asleep and I was able to put him down and go enjoy a full 45 minutes of morning time with J. It was blissful to have some uninterrupted time with him, all warm and rumpled and bright.
3) At some point in the afternoon, A. said he’d make dinner, an offer that nearly moves me to tears these days, since I’ve been nearly 100% on dinner duty for the past months while A. does things like demolishing bathrooms and putting up siding. I handed both boys off to him, and they all headed for a quick runaround at the park. I went off to do some caulking the bathroom of our rental. The caulking was dreamy. I was unencumbered by the stream of spontaneous toddler and baby demands and able to focus on one single thing—in this case, creating a mildew-free, water tight seal around our renter’s bathtub. And I listened to this episode of This American Life, which I found characteristically soulful, charming and thought-provoking (I just effing love that show). Just as I was finishing up, I felt my own hunger pulling me towards dinner time, so walked back to our place to find it empty.
My mind immediately hopped on the hamster wheel it runs in such situations.
Yep. 6:30. Also known as dinner time. And he offered to cook dinner, and he’s nowhere to be found and now dinner will be late, bedtime will be late and J will get all hopped up and hard to put to sleep. Not to mention that I’m hungry and just want someone else to make dinner for once.
I figured that they were still at the park and got ready to walk over and go find them in order to pull out all the passive aggressive stops to make sure A knew that I was pissed about the lack of dinner.
But instead, I stopped. I felt myself revving up in this familiar way that I do when I’m tired and frustrated. And I just stopped for a moment. I was hungry. Almost shaky with hunger as only a breastfeeding woman who has been caulking a bathtub can be. And I also remembered for a moment that A. is capable and smart and caring and probably had some reasonable thoughts about why he wasn’t in the kitchen working on dinner.
Instead of marching out to the park to let A. have it, I opened the fridge, found some leftover chicken and a beer and sat down to eat it.
Tonight, I took part in a quiet revolution at my dining table: I was hungry. So I fed myself. And I gave my partner some credit.
A few minutes later, he came home with C sleeping in the sling and J trotting beside him. “Sorry we got held up at the park. I’m just gonna figure out a quick dinner for J.” And he did figure it out. More importantly, I let him. I did not bang around angry to find a quick dinner for J. And when they all walked in the door, wasn’t resentful because I was already eating my dinner and drinking a beer and knowing that A. was a capable, reasonable person.
4) I am now going to stop typing, turn on the white noise, pop in my earplugs and go to sleep alone in this queen sized bed while A. takes another night shift with baby C. Here’s hoping for another 5 hours of uninterrupted sleep. But I’ll settle for 3-4.
p.s. I’m posting this at 7:30 am after 6, count them SIX hours of sleep. And C. is sleeping in our bed with A. And J. is awake but playing in his room quietly.