Saturday, August 20, 2011

Mama Bear

I woke up with a start at 2:45 a.m., breathing the heavy, panicked breath I'd never quite gotten used to during the last trimester of my pregnancy with Ben. As I surfaced from another anxious dream/nightmare, I slowly sat up in bed, trying to decide whether I should get up or go back to sleep. The familiarity of the feeling didn't make it any more welcome, or provide any calming comfort for my racing heart and breath.

The dream was like many I'd had in my third trimester: I was alone with my baby, traveling somewhere or spending time in a place that wasn't home, and then, suddenly, my baby was gone. In one dream, I was driving somewhere, and then suddenly found myself standing on the side of the road, watching my car drive away with someone else at the wheel and my baby in the back seat. In another, I was in a strange house, hearing my baby cry but unable to find him behind any of the doors I opened.

This time, I was on vacation with my sisters, mother, and grandmother. My mother was holding Ben at the dining room table, bouncing him up and down for my grandmother's delight, who was taking pictures and making faces to get him to smile and giggle at her. I watched from the bedroom as I unpacked our things. Then, beyond the table, through the sliding doors to the pool, I saw a bear slip over the fence and into the water. Two more bears followed, one carrying a cub on its back.

I ran into the bedroom to grab my camera, and as I walked toward the locked sliding door, I saw my mother, carrying Ben, entering the yard from the door in her bedroom. Unable to shout to her about the imminent danger, I watched as she became aware of the bears' presence in the pool. In what I can only guess was a survival tactic, she slowly joined the bears in the water, swimming slowly around the pool with them--and my baby.

I watched, frozen with terror, as she interacted with the bears, and then, handed my baby to the mother bear, who let her own cub swim toward my own mother. Afraid to spook the bears into mauling my mother and child, I watched as the mother bear swam underwater with my son, who smiled, unaware of the threat they posed. As they continued to play--underwater--I found myself holding my breath along with my son, desperate to save him from drowning, and wondering how long before he would.

And then, I woke up.

I don't need Freud to tell me that these dreams represent my desire to keep my children safe from harm. That they illustrate my mistrust in anyone else--even my own mother--to keep them safe, secure, and content. That they manifest my "mama bear" instinct to keep my children close to me at all times, especially now as I face the end of my maternity leave. And as confident as I am in my husband, our daycare provider, and babysitters to love my children--and even, often, have more patience with them than I do--I still fear the transition as much as I'd feared the transition from growing a baby to raising one.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The IUD is Not for Me

Even before our son was born, my husband and I knew he was the last  piece of our family puzzle. We had extensive discussions throughout the three years since we'd decided to have our first child. Should we just have one? Mike had always imagined two. I was just finding myself again, now that our daughter was older and more independent. Mike was enjoying fatherhood, and probably secretly hoped for a son. I'd never imagined having children at all. Then I couldn't imagine life without Ella. But two seemed too risky. A financial burden we could live without. An emotional stress I wasn't sure I could handle. A drain on time I didn't have. Yet, as Ella began to differentiate herself from me and explore her independence, I found myself missing the mother-child bond we'd had when she was just an infant. Parenting a toddler, and then a preschooler, is light-years away from mothering a baby. I missed nursing, cradling my baby in my arms for hours each day. Ella seemed lonely in the house with us. She wanted, maybe even needed, to connect with someone closer to her in age. Did she need a sibling? Maybe, maybe not. At the end of the day, we decided for her, and ten months later, she had a baby brother to bestow her undying affection on.

Now that there are two of them, "Elizaben" has become Elizabeth and Benjamin. And our family is complete. So our lengthy discussions turned to birth control after Benjamin was born. Would Mike get a vasectomy? Would I get my tubes tied? I didn't want to be on hormonal birth control ever again, after realizing in my 30s that my 20s had sucked in part because I had been on the pill for an entire decade. Hormonal birth control was an uphill battle to find the right pill, one that didn't make me feel like a raging lunatic or suicidal maniac, that didn't make me want to eat my way to 200 lbs, that didn't increase my changes of getting a migraine every day for two weeks out of every month. Yet when I started talking to my midwife about permanent options, it boiled down to two: vasectomy or tubal ligation. Because vasectomy is a 15-minute office procedure and tubal ligation is major surgery, it's the preferred permanent method. However, my feminist self told me that since my body was the one that could get pregnant, my body was the one that needed to be protected, not my husband's.

So I looked into other options. Essure was a non-surgical permanent option for women, but my midwife recommended we wait a year before choosing anything permanent. So before we made any irreversible changes, we all thought it best to try something that would work in the meantime. The choice became hormonal vs. non-hormonal IUD. None of the doctors I spoke to seemed to recommend the non-hormonal IUD, which could cause heavier-than-normal periods and cramping. Having suffered that on my own hormones until I was 20, I was definitely not going that route. So I decided to give the Mirena a try. After a few months of really annoying (according to my midwife) random spotting, supposedly, many women don't even get a period at all. That sounded good to me, so I buried my discomfort with the whole foreign-object-in-body thing and made an appointment.

The whole procedure took less than five minutes and didn't hurt a bit. I was pleasantly surprised that aside from a little bit of cramping for two days after, things seemed fine. After waiting the requisite amount of time to actually use the thing as birth control, we tried it out and...things felt...different. Without going into specifics, let's just say I knew it was there. In case you haven't checked out Mirena's images lately, and without getting too graphic, I'll just say that although the IUD is an "intra-uterine device," it has threads that are left outside the cervix. I had been aware of all this after asking numerous friends who'd taken the plunge before me, except for one thing: I was supposed to check the threads once a month. Myself. To make sure they were still there. Which means they are actually quite noticeable.

But, I digress. Because even though the whole foreign-object-in-the-body thing was bothering me, that's not why I started to freak out a week after I got the IUD. In fact, I had started to freak out before I even realized the cause. It started with headaches. Not just any headache, but migraine headache. Migraine headache that wouldn't go away, not with Excedrin PM, cold compress, or even Percocet. If taking Relpax or Frova didn't require an appointment with the neurologist, I would have tried that and failed as well. Because these were headaches I knew all too well. They were the same headaches I'd suffered through my 20s. The uphill battle. Headaches, unexplainable irritability, and, this time, anxiety attacks as well. Despite the lack of research, I'd seen enough anecdotal evidence to convince me: hormones are a shit-show waiting to happen to some people, and I was one of them.

Which is why, when I go back to see my midwife next week, instead of checking on the IUD, she'll be removing it. Hopefully, this will solve the headache problem. As for the irritability and anxiety--well, if those continue, then there's probably a good reason for both.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Paleontologist Princess

When we were expecting our first child, we swore if the baby was a girl that we would avoid dressing her in pink. We purposely didn't find out the baby's sex so that we wouldn't be inundated with gender-specific clothing, toys, and books. We wanted to raise our child without buying into the stereotypes: girls play with dolls, while boys play with trains. Girls wear pink, while boys wear blue. Girls want to grow up to be princesses, while boys want to be superheroes.

This worked, for a little while. We styled our baby in graphic tees and camo shorts. Her first pair of walking shoes were red- and-white checkered Vans. She had more cars, trains, trucks, and buses than she had dolls.
Then, she began to have opinions. As she got older and began choosing toys out of the bin, she would go for the baby dolls over the trucks. She began to forego the train for the shopping cart. She wanted to play with the princess puzzle, not the rainforest one. She wanted to wear the sparkly Mary Janes instead of the Vans. And she wanted to wear pink. Dresses. Jewelry. High heels. And then, there was The Princess Party. For her 3rd birthday, we celebrated in Chicago with a "Ladies Luncheon."
And, back home we celebrated on her actual birthday with The Little Mermaid.
And, because it was cute and because grandmas, grandpas, aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends (and yes, even parents) enjoy hearing the squeals of delight that are elicited by the opening of presents containing baby's new favorite things, she began receiving more dolls, princesses, dresses, and frilly pink tutus than we knew what to do with.
As Ella got older and began watching parent-approved shows and movies (and began being influenced by other kids' interests), she began to fall under the spell of the likes of Ariel and Belle and Tiana, the Frog Princess. At first, we were amused. Then, we were relieved at how easy it was to get an hour or two to we introduced The Swan Princess. Then, it was Peter Pan and Tinkerbell. Then Rapunzel. And along with every movie came the "action" figure, and then her friends, and then her "things." Before we knew it, she was dressing like her favorite princess--a different one each day, thanks to the trunksful of velour dresses, crowns, and jewelry she got for two consecutive Christmases.

But then, just as we were becoming disgusted with ourselves for allowing her to be brainwashed into thinking all girls needed to find a prince to marry and live happily ever after, the tide began to turn. Mike got her a skateboard for her 4th birthday, albeit with bright pink wheels. Her godmother, Amy, introduced her to roller derby, even christening her with her own derby name.
She was just as interested in playing with tools as she was tulle.
She enjoyed swimming, and running, and jumping, and climbing, and biking, and kayaking.
And then, she surprised us all when she announced what she wanted to be when she grew up: a paleontologist. For weeks, all she wanted to listen to was "I Am a Paleontologist" by They Might Be Giants. Every time we got in the car, she wanted to hear the story of "Dr. von Wahlde, Paleontologist." She pretended to go on digs for fossils. She loved the dinosaur exhibit at the Peabody Museum. And she had a birthday party complete with dinosaur cupcakes, inflatable dinosaurs, fossils, dinosaur tattoos, and miniature dinosaurs.

Today, she alternates between telling us she wants to be a paleontologist princess and a paleontologist mom. Her princesses live next to the Playmobil volcano under the shadow of the Triceratops and T-rex who live there too. And somehow, they all just get along. So, I guess Disney hasn't cornered the market on little girls, after all.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Waiting Game

Hypersensitive to my son's cries, I routinely wake up at the slightest sniffle, snort, or wail. Unfortunately, my son does not. Night after night, I find that in the time between hearing him complain and getting to the door of his room, his face has returned to a peacefully slack visage. Because I am trying not to raise a second child who wakes up two-three times a night until the age of two, I now spend at least an hour or two each night shuffling between bed, the bathroom, and Benjamin's room, trying to wait until he's actually awake to pick him up out of bed, change his diaper, and feed him. In fact, minus the actual baby, it's not a whole lot different than when I was pregnant.

I even tried not changing his diaper, in an effort to wake him less and try to shorten the length of time I was awake with him (and therefore, he was awake with me). That effort was rewarded the next time I fed him by a soaking wet baby, blanket, sheet, and mattress pad. Every. Time. I. Tried. It. And I tried it numerous times, hoping for a different outcome each time. Adding insult to injury, even when I woke the poor kid by changing his diaper (which includes exposing his delightfully warm body to the cold night air), he was sometimes still too sleepy to eat well--and thanked me by waking up two hours later to eat vigorously and intently.

Short of sound-proofing Benjamin's room, I'm not sure how to curtail my own night wakings. One thing it makes me acutely aware of is how "normal" it is to wake at night--and even to want to wake someone else to share the insomnia with. Already I can thank child #2 for helping me better understand child #1--even though I stand firm on insisting both sleep in their own rooms, with the doors closed.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Booby Traps

When I got pregnant, I knew I wanted to exclusively breastfeed my child. I cringed at the thought of formula-feeding--not just my baby, but any baby. I was an insta-advocate. I don't know why I was so convicted, or where I got the idea that formula was poison, or how I became such an advocate for breastfeeding, both in the personal and political sense. But I was, and am, and I armed myself with knowledge and support long before my daughter was born. I bought a copy of The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding and read it cover to cover during my pregnancy. I looked up my local La Leche League Group and began attending meetings even before my daughter was born. I chose a pediatric physicians' group that had a lactation consultant on staff, and I made sure I knew who the independent lactation consultants in the area were. I thought, as with preparing for an unmedicated childbirth, that if I were educated, I would be prepared to beat any challenges that presented themselves.

What I wasn't prepared for were the bruised and battered nipples that were a result of my daughter's narrow latch and vigorous suck. I wasn't prepared for breasts the size of cantaloupes, or the pain of carrying around cantaloupes in my bra, or the difficulty a baby might have latching on to cantaloupes, or cantaloupes that could spray milk two to three feet in every direction during letdown. I wasn't prepared for my milk to let down at random times and soak my shirt, such as when I heard other people's kids cry, I saw a sappy commercial on television, or I heard an ambulance siren, and I was less than thrilled to realize I would be wearing nursing pads in my bra for as long as I would continue nursing. I wasn’t prepared for the fever and chills that could accompany plugged ducts, the pain and swelling that signaled mastitis, or the daily breast maintenance that was required to avoid both of these.

As it turns out, I wasn’t prepared for a lot.

While my pregnancies may not have been pretty, I have been blessed with many things: easy labors, quick deliveries, and an overabundance of milk. I didn't realize just how abundant my milk supply was with my daughter, because I had no occasion to pump my milk on a regular basis, and never around the clock for any 24-hour period during the entire 26 months of our breastfeeding relationship. When our son was born five weeks early, he spent two weeks in the newborn special care unit, so I began pumping every three hours around the clock from the time he was born. The postpartum nurse was proud of me when I pumped a full ounce of colostrum three hours after delivery, but I cringed, remembering how difficult it had been to regulate my milk supply for Ella. And yet, I worried about not being able to pump enough milk for Benjamin, especially since we were separated and would only get to spend at most eight hours a day with each other, and not even with skin to skin contact. So, I dutifully pumped for 15-20 minutes every three hours around the clock. By the third day, I was bringing enough milk to the nurses that I had filled up two drawers in the hospital's freezer. When I came in the fourth day, the nurse told me I could start leaving what I was pumping at home, at home.

When I started feeling like I was carrying a ton of concrete in my bra engorged barely two hours after I last pumped, I started paying attention to exactly how much milk I was producing. Within ten minutes of pumping, I had ten ounces between both bottles. I started doing the math, and realized that if I was pumping eight times in 24 hours, 10 ounces each time, I was pumping 80 ounces of milk per day. I knew newborns didn't drink much and vaguely remembered the nurse showing me small balls that represented the size of their stomachs at one week, one month, and so on, but I didn't know what a "normal" amount of milk was. I did, however, know that I had more than whatever “normal” was. I immediately contacted the hospital's lactation consultants, who practically choked when I told them how much milk I was producing and how painful my breasts were. When I filled them in on some of the oversupply challenges I'd experienced with my daughter, they immediately suggested that I change my pumping routine, and that I begin drinking sage tea.

So, I started “pumping to comfort”--meaning, I tried to only pump for about 5-7 minutes, since in that time I was still producing at least 5-7 ounces, and since “comfort” being a relative term, I couldn’t gauge by that standard. And I started drinking sage tea. It’s like trying to enjoy a relaxing cup of chicken stock--only without the salt. Needless to say, it’s not the most palatable drink. Thankfully, I didn't mind the taste, especially as a sage-peppermint iced-tea sweetened with just a bit of honey, because I needed to drink about 8 cups of it a day in order to keep things under control. And if this time around was going to be similar to the last time, it would take 2-3 months before I could safely cut back, and then completely stop, drinking the tea.

When the doctors at the hospital finally gave the okay to bring Benjamin home, I was anxious about establishing our nursing routine. Everything I’d learned the first time about not using pacifiers or bottles until nursing was well established had to be revised, since in the newborn special care unit they don’t spoon- or dropper-feed breastfed babies, and since sometimes the paraphernalia required to keep the little ones alive and well restricted the ability to soothe and comfort them by touch, a pacifier was the only tool available to keep them calm. In addition, the lactation consultants at the hospital had recommended I use a nipple shield to help Benjamin latch, since he was so little and trying to nurse required so much energy. Everything was about energy--he couldn’t expend too much energy trying to eat or else he’d burn up all the calories he was taking in. 

I fully expected, given what I had learned with Ella, what I was learning from the hospital staff, and what I was experiencing with Benjamin, that I would be tethered to the pump for weeks. I worried about finding time to pump milk and nurse Benjamin while trying to also care for Ella. While I knew I had the determination to help Benjamin become a successfully exclusively nursing baby, I was exhausted just thinking about how long it might take and how frustrating it might be to get us to a place where we could just sit down together and nurse, when my breasts didn’t feel like rocks an hour after nursing or pumping, when I could just pack up the damn pump, throw away the nipple shield, and forget about the bottles altogether. I knew the day would come, but I assumed it would take weeks.

The funny thing about knowledge is this: no matter how much you know, there is always so much more to learn. And luckily, some things don’t even need to be learned. Because for everything I knew, my son knew better. Before he’d even been home two days, we had stopped using the nipple shield. Within four days, he was nursing at almost every feeding. By the end of the week, not only did I not need to pump, but my 36F cantaloupes had shrunk back down to a far more respectable and familiar size.

I keep learning again and again that when it comes to parenting, you can never really be prepared; knowing about the booby traps so that you will be equipped to avoid or deal with them is the best that you can do.

Monday, May 16, 2011

(Not) Sleeping as a Family

When Benjamin came home, Ella had been sleeping in our bed for at least half the night, more nights than not. So, with the baby sleeping in the bassinet next to our bed, we found ourselves spending at least half the night with four people in bed. And while I loved the idea of everyone snuggling in close and feeling safe and secure, what I didn't love was the amplified snoring that I found myself listening to at 12, 3, and 6 am. To make matters worse, my son was a grunter. He grunted and groaned all night long, adding a strange cacophonous melody to Mike and Ella's rattles, rumbles, and snorts.
Since the lactation consultants at the hospital had me terrified I would miss a hunger cue and allow Ben to get too worked up to eat, I misinterpreted every grunt, groan, and sniffle I heard that first week as a hunger cue. My sweet, mellow, go-with-the-flow baby went with it, and dutifully nursed every time I woke him up. Which, I realized, was exactly what I was doing: waking him up. Because I was already awake, listening to the throaty musical in my bed, I was hypersensitive to the noises he was making. Instead of waiting until he was truly awake to snatch him out of the bassinet and bring him into bed with the rest of us, I was preemptively feeding and changing him. In thinking about the way I'd reacted to Ella when she came home, I now realize why she didn't sleep through the night for two years--because I wouldn't let her!
Determined to do things differently this time, we started talking to Ella about how it was time for everyone to get back to sleeping in his/her own bed. I warned her that when Ben was big enough to sleep in his crib in his room, Ella would need to go back to sleeping in her own bed all night long as well. So, wistfully, after three weeks home, baby Ben was sent off to his room to sleep. Of course he was still waking up every two to three hours to eat, but at least now I slept in between each feeding--and did a better job of waiting until he cried to get him out of bed. Like Ella did as a baby, though, he cries intermittently while still fully asleep, so I still feel like I am ready to get him before he is ready to be gotten. And I still don't know what a full cry sounds like, despite having him home for over a month now.
When grandma came to visit, I worried that Ella would jump at the chance to regress and jump back into our bed the first chance she got, so we set up her trundle bed in our room, on the other side of the bassinet, which we hadn't yet moved from the room. For the few days that grandma visited, we all returned to the family bedroom, and yet somehow we all slept better, perhaps because we knew it was only a temporary arrangement.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Farewell Diaper Bag, Hello Scrunchie Tote!

Best. Bag. Ever.
By Ubiquitous Mom from Fairfield, CT on 5/13/2011
5out of 5
Pros: Great Color, Good Organization, Attractive, Easy Access, High Quality, Good Strap Length, Enough Compartments
Best Uses: Computer, Anytime, Carry-on, Diaper bag, Traveling, Shopping
Describe Yourself: Stylish, Modern, Practical, Comfort-Oriented
Was this a gift?: Yes
I asked for this for Mother's Day because I wanted a bag that could be used as a diaper bag/kid bag/all-around everyday purse kind of thing. Packing for a four-year-old and newborn baby means a lot of random stuff that I want with me pretty much all the time, plus it's nice to throw a few things for me (wallet, notebook, cell phone, etc.) in as well.

I was so excited to actually pack the bag tonight. The front velcro-closure compartment is perfect for those things you want to grab in a hurry--keys, gum, tissues--and the enormous bucket-like inside pocket has great compartments on both sides. I love the oversized zipper pocket, and the smaller pen/miscellany holder on the other side is great too. I can even fit my Macbook in it with everything else!

This is really going to be a great bag for traveling as well as daily use--it's large enough to use as a carry-on with snacks, changes of clothes for the kids, and anything else I can think of! The straps are the perfect length and the bag sits really securely and comfortably on my shoulder--no slippage! If it holds up half as well as my messenger bag did, I'll be psyched.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Doctor's Orders

While most experts recommend women wait at least three weeks after a vaginal birth to begin any postpartum exercise, and it is recommended to wait at least three months before resuming any vigorous exercise classes or regimens, by the time five weeks had rolled by in a blur with our second, I started getting antsy. Unlike after my first child, I didn't feel like my insides were going to fall out if I walked more than half a mile. My body wasn't as tender and I didn't feel as fragile this time around. What I felt was flabby. And since I wasn't having any luck sleeping when the baby was sleeping (seriously who does???) I figured I might as well start taking advantage of the beautiful May weather by resuming the three-mile walks I'd been doing before the long, hard winter hit. After successfully completing the first three-miler, I figured it was probably safe to start hitting the weights. I not only wanted to get out of the maternity pants that were too big on me but still the only thing (aside from yoga pants) that fit, I wanted to lose the last twenty pounds and then some, just for good measure and because I wanted to get the body that I never managed to achieve after my first pregnancy.

The reality is this: I have no business exerting myself with strenuous exercise because it leaves no energy, patience, or strength to make it 24 hours around the clock with the baby and a four-year-old. While I may be able to get up to nurse the baby every three hours through the night, what I can't do is get up to nurse him and then stare lovingly into his eyes for the next hour and a half while he tries to figure out how to go back to sleep, then get up the next morning and start the cycle all over again. The self-pride I had earlier in the day when I made it through Jillian Michaels' 30-Day Shred workout paled in comparison to the fact that I threw my baby into grandma's arms, told my husband to give him a bottle when he got hungry, and trudged my sore ass to bed at 8:00 pm. I have been running out of steam by four p.m. most days, and can't seem to find the time to catch a nap. So, although my brain may be misinterpreting exhaustion for restlessness, it's obvious my body isn't quite ready to keep up the pace. I think tomorrow's exercise will be limited to lifting the remote control for the television.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Benjamin's Birth Story

When Mike and I decided we wanted to try for a second child, I envisioned another girl—couldn’t even fathom a boy, in fact. I pictured Ella and her sister—whose name I just couldn’t imagine, not as hard as I tried (I should have seen it as a sign)—playing princess dress-up, school, house, you name it. I daydreamed about all the hushed-tone conversations they’d have about me, and they’d roll their eyes in my direction when my back was turned.

Ella shared these visions, and she made that very clear. “Ella, do you think you’re having a brother or a sister?” –“Um, I think a sister.” –“But what if it’s a brother?” –“No, I think a sister. Because then we can play princess stuff.” Whenever I would suggest that a brother could play with princess stuff, she’d make a face liked I’d asked her to eat fried liver and onions.

Mike, on the other hand, was quietly dreaming about a son, a partner in crime, someone to share his love of surfing and skateboarding with. Not that Ella isn’t a willing accomplice—but he was eager to impart the lessons his father taught him. He wanted someone in this family who had a chance of understanding where he was coming from, at least a little bit.

Needless to say, we were all eager to meet the new baby. So eager, in fact, that we decided to find out the sex, even though we hadn’t with Ella and thought we wouldn’t with the next one, either. I told myself and Mike that it would be better for Ella if she knew, so that she could get used to the idea of a brother or sister before it became a real concept. Mike told me it was my choice, since he had been more insistent upon waiting the first time—which led to us referring to Ella as “Elizaben” while she was an inside baby: Elizabeth if a girl, or Benjamin if a boy.

I knew Mike was excited when the ultrasound technician pointed between our baby’s legs and said, “Do you see?” What I wasn’t prepared for were my own spontaneous tears of excitement. As it turns out, I was just as overjoyed to be finding out that our family would now have its Ben.

What none of us expected, however, was that our family would be meeting Ben quite so soon as we did, even though our first ultrasound dated his arrival at least a week earlier than the doctors originally estimated based on “the wheel.” What nobody expected, even though I kept hinting that I thought the baby would arrive at least a week or two before even the adjusted due date, and even though everyone at work would watch me lumber down the halls between classes and ask me, “Are you going to make it?” was that Ben would arrive a full five weeks plus one day early.

I had expected to continue teaching until the last day before April break, making my official maternity leave start date the day school resumed, April 25—still a respectable week away from Ben’s due date. I had suspicions he would decide to make his way into the world over the break, but didn’t want to get too excited about the prospect, since, as everyone kept warning me, he wouldn’t necessarily be early just because Ella was. But, since Ella had been due July 1 and was born June 18, I couldn’t help thinking that Ben, who was due May 1, would probably come sometime around April 18.

The week of March 20 was a tough one. I hadn’t been sleeping well for the last couple of weeks, waking up with a start every few hours and sometimes every hour. I was having unexplainable middle-of-the-night panic attacks. I was also experiencing a lot of Braxton-Hicks contractions. This combination of night-time wakefulness led to me literally falling asleep while driving to work. By Thursday, I had already made the decision I would stay home from work on Friday to  spend the day with Ella, who didn’t have school due to professional development taking place. Mike was up the entire night with Ella and decided to stay home with her as well, and decided to stick with that plan—which I was happy about because it meant I would be able to sleep in past 7 am. As with my first pregnancy, I found that the best sleep I got in the last two months of gestation came between the hours of 3 am and 10 am.

Because it was the end of the quarter and students would be turning in essays over the weekend, and because I was getting anxious about wrapping things up, I took my laptop home with me—something I never do. I had already done a partial clean-up of my desk at school, moving boxes of books to my classroom, putting files away, and otherwise creating a clean workplace for my eventual substitute. I spent the day Friday hanging out with Ella, watching Blues Clues and puttering about the house while our cleaning lady, Claudia, erased all of the mess that had accumulated over the past two weeks. I had already stripped the beds and put out clean sheets, including some linens for the crib in the baby’s room to serve in the interim while my best friend, Amy, finished sewing a blanket, bumper, and crib skirt for us.

After Claudia left, I decided to cook a casserole to bring to my book club, which was meeting later that night. I made a double batch, since the following day our family was trekking out to Hopatcong, NJ to visit some friends who had just had their baby, a girl named Coralee. I wanted to be sure we visited and brought some food and gifts before we had our baby and became home-bound for a while. Ella helped me chop and mix ingredients, and I helped her dress her miniature princess dolls in each other’s clothing. I packed up and headed over to my friend Kerry’s house, eager to see everyone and catch up after a long winter hibernation that had kept us all apart for far too long.

Although our book topic was Little Bee, by Chris Cleave, as usual conversation dissolved into the issues that were most pressing to us: for me, this was my birth plan. I polled the members of the group who’d already had their second children, asking for suggestions on how to include Ella in the process. Just the last week or two, I had started to reconsider home birth or the Danbury Birth Center, because either option would allow Ella to be as involved in the labor and delivery of her baby brother as she felt comfortable. I was concerned about her feeling left out, since Ella had taken on a protective role when it came to me—rubbing my aching back, kissing my burgeoning belly, and rubbing my tired head. She was constantly asking, “What time will baby Benjamin come out?” I thought it would be cruel and confusing to just disappear and then reappear with a baby in my arms, yet Yale didn’t allow children under 12 into labor and delivery rooms.

I shared my concerns with the group, who assured me that no matter what, Ella would be fine. By the end of the night, I was satisfied and relieved, since I loved my midwives’ practice very much and didn’t really want to leave them and transfer someplace new at 35 weeks, even though plenty do. As we all got up to leave, my girlfriend Krista rubbed my belly and murmured some words of encouragement. As we hugged goodbye, I felt a pop and then a trickle of warmth down my pants leg.

“Um, girls…” I started to say. “Either I just peed in my pants, or my water broke!”

Instantly the girls snapped to attention.

“Are you ok?” Kerri asked.

“Do you want me to call Mike?” said someone else.

“What can I do?” they all wondered.

“Nothing, no, thanks, I’m ok…let me just go to the bathroom,” I said as I waddled through the kitchen. In the bathroom, amniotic fluid continued gushing out of me. My hands shook as I attempted to dry my jeans. It’s too early, I thought to myself. Too early!

Kerri was waiting outside the bathroom door. “I’ll drive you home,” she said.

“No, no…it’s ok. I’m fine! I’ll be fine,” I assured everyone. “Kerry, can I borrow a towel?” I asked. I was becoming a bit overwhelmed by how much fluid was coming out. When my water broke with Ella, it was such a slight trickle for the first four hours that I was able to putter around the house comfortably. This time, I was afraid to move for fear of drowning small children.

“Should someone follow you home?” Anne or Krista or somebody asked.

“No, no, really, I’ll be ok. I’ll call Mike when I get in the car. There’s no rush…I’m not having contractions or anything, my water just broke!” I said goodbyes all around, hugged everyone, and left. In the car, I called Mike, who was over at Jeff & Deirdre’s house watching a movie with Ella—their usual tradition on nights I had book club. He would walk over to their house with Ella dressed in her pajamas and hang out until 10 pm or so, then either walk back with Ella or carry a semi-asleep Ella back home.

“My water broke,” I said when Mike picked up the phone.

“What?” he said incredulously.

“My water broke!” I repeated. “I’m on my way home.”

“Um, ok! Ok!” Mike said nervously. “Are you ok?”

I assured him I was, and hung up to call my parents and tell them the news. My mother and I had been talking for weeks about when she should plan to fly out to be with Ella and help us out, afraid that she wouldn’t be able to use frequent flyer miles, that tickets would be exorbitantly expensive, or that flights wouldn’t be available last-minute.

When I finished with my parents, I called the answering service for our midwives. They patched Debbie right through—she was on call all weekend, which relieved me. As much as I loved her two new partners, Debbie has been in practice for decades, and she had been the one attending Ella’s birth—it was fate. Debbie informed me that unfortunately, since I hadn’t yet been tested for Group B Strep, that we would have to go to the hospital right away, instead of laboring at home, so that I could begin to receive IV antibiotics every four hours. Great, I thought to myself. Unwanted intervention #1.

I walked in the front door to find Jeff and Mike running frantically around the house. Jeff was dusting off the infant car seat, which we hadn’t yet pulled out of the basement. Mike was haphazardly throwing clothing into a bag, trying to make sure I’d have everything I wanted at the hospital. I stood on the entry rug by the front door, afraid to step further into the house because fluid continued to gush even faster out of me, literally soaking my jeans.

“Get off the phone!” Mike yelled at me.

“I’m on the phone with the midwife!” I yelled back, laughing hysterically at the amount of fluid gushing out of me. I could barely find the breath to talk to Debbie between cackles. “Oh my god!” I exclaimed. “There’s just SO much!” I finished making arrangements with Debbie and hung up.

“Now just hold on,” I said, turning my attention to Mike and Jeff. “Let’s slow down.” I tried to calmly give directions, wishing the fluid would subside so I could make my way upstairs to change, pick out some clothes, and finish packing my bag myself. I asked Jeff to get some Clorox wipes to wipe down the car seat with, wishing I had taken it apart before this to throw the cover in the washing machine. I started taking things out of the bag Mike was packing and tried to tell him where everything I wanted was upstairs. I asked for a dry towel so that I could get out of my jeans and get into something dry.

Finally, we made it out of the house and over to Jeff and Deirdre’s so that I could say goodbye to Ella, at the very least, and let her know her baby brother was on his way. She was, to say the least, very surprised. “He’s coming out TODAY?!?” she said, wide-eyed.

“Well, maybe not today, but very soon,” I told her. “We have to go to the hospital now to see the doctor and find out.”

There were a few tears as Ella clung to my neck and expressed her desires to come with us, which broke my heart, but they quickly subsided as Deirdre offered another cookie and redirected Ella’s attention to the movie still playing in the background.

“She’ll be fine,” Deirdre told me. “Good luck!”

Alone again in the car on the way to the hospital, fear overtook me. “It’s too early,” I said nervously to Mike. “What’s going on?”

We didn’t say much else about it on the way up—just laughed at how easy the drive was in the middle of the night compared to the drive at 10 o’clock in the morning. I commented on how the bumps in the road weren’t nearly as bad when I wasn’t having contractions every three minutes. Before we knew it, we had arrived, just minutes before midnight.

Debbie was waiting for us when we got up to Labor and Delivery triage, where a nurse took my vitals and Debbie confirmed that my water had, indeed, broken. I declined the offer of a gown, not wanting to spend the night feeling even more like a patient, especially after Debbie told me she didn’t want me to try to go into labor overnight, that she would prefer we rest and wait until morning if possible.

Luckily, we got admitted to an L & D room, rather than a regular hospital room, since I was mildly contracting every 10-20 minutes. I tried to breathe deeply and calmly as I got hooked up to the IV. Mike, who knew a thing or two about IVs from his kidney extraction, asked the nurse to find a different port to leave in my hand so that I wouldn’t have a big long tube taped to my arm in between infusions. While that helped, I was still uncomfortable having something stuck in my hand—and the 20 minutes it took to actually receive the penicillin were terrible. They had to combine the penicillin with other fluids because the penicillin burned in the veins when injected. The fluid was cold, the penicillin was hot, and I was paralyzed during each infusion, afraid to move and unable to think about anything else except the drugs. Many times I asked myself and anyone else in the room, “Why would women CHOOSE to be hooked up to all this (and more) during labor???”

The night passed slowly. Mike made a bed on the hard tile floor after a brief attempt in the reclining chair next to the bed. I surfed the internet, sent emails, and watching shows on Hulu while I listened to him snoring softly. At one point I finally dozed off for an hour or so. I willed my body to start contracting…I visualized my cervix opening. Please, I thought. Please…don’t make them induce me.

In the morning, Debbie suggested she check me to see if she could clear any hidden “obstacles” such as a forebag of waters. She and the nurse, Jen, who had four children that Debbie had helped deliver, joked that Debbie would “roto-rooter” things along. Although Debbie didn’t find anything, she did determine that I was about three centimeters and 80% effaced, meaning the contractions I’d thought I was having were actually real, even if they were inconsistent and far apart. Still, she prepared me for the worst. “You may need to think about Pitocin,” she warned.

“No,” I said. “No Pitocin. How long before something HAS to be done?” I asked.

While Debbie assured me that the hospital didn’t put a time limit on laboring women, she did say that she didn’t want me hanging around forever. I told her I wouldn’t even consider Pitocin or other induction drugs until after midnight, when Benjamin would be 35 weeks old. 35 was the magic number for the hospital—it meant he wouldn’t automatically be whisked away to the Newborn Special Care Unit for observation. If he were born before midnight, he would be considered premature and would require observation and monitoring in the NBSCU. Debbie continued to tell me the baby was going to be fine. I believed her, not once considering that “fine” could mean very different things.

After Debbie checked me, she left us alone with instructions to get things moving—she wanted me out of bed, moving around, and for Mike and I to spend some time stimulating my nipples—a proven trick for stimulating labor. Since I was still feeling pretty good, I showered while Mike went out for coffee and breakfast, finally getting the chance to shave my legs. I spent a long time under the hot water, just trying to relax despite the huge needle in my hand. Luckily, it was well taped and the nurse assured me I didn’t need to worry about getting it wet.

Luckily, Mike had packed his computer, so I danced around the room after my shower, enjoying Sebadoh and Sonic Youth, bouncing slightly to Modest Mouse and the Pixies. The whole time, I kept shoving negative thoughts to the back of my head. Because I was so alert and aware, instead of focused and introspective as I’d been when I was in labor with Ella, I feared nothing was really happening to help Benjamin get out. I feared he wasn’t ready, or that my body wasn’t ready, despite my water breaking. I was terrified of needing medical intervention to get him out. I danced faster. I squatted. I rocked on the ball. When Mike came back, we did nipple stim like nobody’s business. By 10:30 am, I was contracting regularly, if only five minutes apart.

We hung out for the next two hours, talking, dancing, walking the halls. Eventually my contractions got strong enough to require pressure on my hips and low back to alleviate the pain. Finally, I told Mike and our nurse I was ready to get in the shower again. My contractions were strong enough and close enough together that I was having trouble finding a comfortable position.

I lost track of time after that—but I know we spent a fair amount of time in the shower, where my contractions started hitting closer together. My lower back was aching with each contraction, so I found swaying side to side and moving my hips around in big, wide circles helpful. Mike artfully positioned the water over my belly and back, alternating between contractions for maximum comfort and coverage. We continued to stimulate my nipples, since that seemed to directly bring on each contraction at this point. Eventually, I went from cold to hot and stifled, and told Mike I wanted to get out.

“I think I’ll take a hospital gown now,” I said, acknowledging that I felt pretty close to ready to deliver, although not really believing I was working hard enough to be ready to push. Mike and the nurse helped me into a gown and onto the bed, where I lay in child’s pose between contractions—oddly enough, a pose that I hadn’t found comfortable in yoga classes for months was a major comfort to me now. As each wave of contraction broke over me, I rose to my knees and grabbed the back of the hospital bed, which was raised to its highest point. The contractions were so strong I found myself moaning with each one. The pain in my back kept making me hold my breath and I had to constantly remind myself to breathe. Yet strangely, between contractions, I was still joking around with everyone in the room.

Finally, after one contraction, I said to Debbie, “I don’t know if it’s just wishful thinking, but I feel kind of ‘pushy’ after that last one!”

“I bet you are,” Debbie said. “Jen and I have times bet here, and we both guess the same time, so I know we’re right,” she encouraged me.

The next contraction caught me off guard and I screeched. When Mike put his hand on my back I screamed, “Nononononono! Don’t touch me!” The pressure was excruciating.

Debbie softly rubbed my back side to side after the contraction subsided. “Focus your breath,” she said. “Try to focus on where you want it to go.”

Her reminder helped me channel some yoga practice into the next contraction, and as I let out a low, loud moan, I directed all my energy and breath into the center of my body—down my spine, through my cervix, and out. I am not making this up when I say I actually felt myself opening with that breath. 

“Oh!” I said after. “I really need to push now!”

Debbie checked me for the second time, confirmed that I was almost ten centimeters, and told me she would set up the bed and call the newborn team in. Within minutes, I was pushing. Within minutes, Debbie was able to tell me the baby was “sunny side up”—meaning I had been having back labor. Within minutes, baby Benjamin was crying heartily on my stomach. Within minutes, he was in my arms, wrapped up and staring into my eyes. He was, dare I say it here and never in my daughter’s presence, even more beautiful than she had been. I was smitten.

As I held him, I heard someone telling me he would have to go to the Newborn Special Care Unit after all. He was “grunting,” they said—working too hard to breathe. I tried to stay rational while Debbie finished taking care of me. I tried not to panic when they took our son away. We wouldn’t be able to see him again for another 30 minutes to an hour. We wouldn’t get to hold him again for another two days.

Ben’s story continues from here, and we’re not sure when the next chapter will begin. He spent four days on a ventilator, getting a blend of oxygen and air forced into his lungs to help him inflate them. He spent three more days on a high humidity nasal cannula with a blend of oxygen and pressure. He spent almost a week on IV nutrition, eventually weaning from that to expressed breast milk through a feeding tube into his belly. He is now working on taking milk from a bottle, and should get the feeding tube out shortly. I am expressing 48-60 ounces of breast milk a day. I get to try nursing him maybe once or twice a day. I try to stay positive, because he is still a preemie according to the calendar. I try to stay positive, because he is, according to the NBSCU team, doing “great.” He is going to be “fine.” He will come home “soon.” But there is a hole in my heart, and a pit in my stomach, and I miss him. When I don’t miss him, I am missing Ella. I just want my family together, whole, and home.

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Sunday, January 16, 2011

Sleeping Like a Family

artwork by Katie M. Berggren, sold @
When I was pregnant with our first child, I read practically everything Dr. Sears and his wife, Martha, wrote about babies. I was fascinated with attachment parenting, and loved the idea of co-sleeping with our new baby. I imagined blissfully nursing through the night while lying in bed, barely waking up until the sunlight peeked in through the window. I basked in the warm glow of the image of my husband, baby, and I sleeping peacefully and waking rested.

The reality was...a little bit different. Somehow in all of my reading, I overlooked the fact that I was not actually a very sound sleeper, and that being a mom would make me even more attuned to noises that sounded like babies crying, moving in their sleep, or even just breathing. For the first six weeks, our new baby slept in a handcrafted bassinet fashioned to look like a wooden sailboat, courtesy of my father-in-law. While she slept, I fussed. I constantly turned the light on to peer at the baby, to make sure she was breathing, to tuck her more tightly under the blanket I worried would somehow suffocate her, or just to watch her sleep. About three or four weeks in, I found myself shooting straight up in bed at five in the morning, sure I'd heard her cry out for me. By the time I got the light on and looked down at her, she wasn't moving--sound asleep, eyes peacefully shut. Turns out, the kid was just talking in her sleep. Turns out, we tried out her crib much sooner than we'd ever thought we would.

As for nursing through the night, well, some fun issues with overproduction made that seem impossible as well. In order to avoid choking my poor infant with fire-hydrant-strength streams of milk, I needed to be much more awake, sitting semi-upright to let gravity work against the flow, and prepared to catch what she couldn't with a towel or some other absorbent cloth.

Cut to two and a half years later, as our daughter transitioned from a crib to a toddler bed. It became a not-unusual sight for Mommy to check on Daddy an hour or so after bedtime to find Daddy and daughter snuggled up in a pile of blankets and pillows on the floor of her bedroom, next to the toddler bed. It wasn't long before I found myself on the receiving end of a pair of eyes hovering at the side of the bed at three a.m., intent on boring a hole in my eyelids and satisfied by only the invitation into bed with us. Some nights this worked; others, we trudged little one back to bed after enduring enough kicks, punches, and slaps to feel like we'd been in a mosh pit half the night.

A few months ago, our little one needed to graduate from the toddler bed to a real bed, so we moved the queen-sized guest bed into her room and fashioned the guest room into an office. We made this decision knowing we wanted to be able to snuggle with her at bedtime, aware that this might evolve into full-on bed sharing, and thinking it might keep her out of our bed. As it turns out, it doesn't matter how big the bed is; if it's not Mom & Dad's, it's not where she wants to be. Not every night, but enough nights that I "complain" about it to my mother, who constantly tells me I've "got to get that kid back in her own bed."

But before I do, I'm going to continue to enjoy/endure snuggling with our little one, who sometimes sleeps through the night in her own bed, sometimes snuggles between us in our bed, and sometimes spends the night with either Mommy or Daddy in one of the two beds while the other one enjoys a quiet, uninterrupted night of sleep alone in the other.