Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Planet Earth

As the munchkin nears her four-month birthday, I feel I've settled back into some semblance of myself. Or maybe it's that the little one has been assimilated into my being. A sense of normalcy teases me.

It's nice, mostly. I've learned more about myself and the world by being virtually house-bound these four months than I have in a long time.

For one thing, I learned that I'm not as intrinsically motivated as I like to think. Now that the little girl takes relatively predictable naps and goes to bed easily at an early hour, I do have some free time. (Shocking, I know!) I keep telling myself to write, or to do a major revision of an online class, but it just doesn't happen. Instead, I invent chores to do, or load up the Sims on my shiny new computer and boss that family around. (They are far more compliant than anyone in real life.)

As it turns out, my relentless drive to work is as much about interacting with others as it is my own love of doing so. Teaching provides endless opportunities to curry favor, be "liked," and enjoy the feeling of learning happening. I get a lot of feedback that I interpret as "approval" at this job.

Something about having this baby has brought me in touch with my mortality a bit more. Someone once told me that when a parent dies, you realize your own mortality. That didn't happen when my mom died--perhaps because she died young--but boy, is aging ever on the horizon after this girl arrived.

When the baby was a newborn, she nursed for long periods of time, so I got in the habit of watching TV while I nursed her. She has evolved into a speed eater, but that hasn't stopped me from turning on the TV while she eats. Since she is more aware of her environment now, I try to play shows that are not as obscene as my normal fair (Broad City, anyone?). I decided to give Planet Earth a try, as it's available on Netflix streaming. David Attenborough's calm voice and the cinematography usually make for a lovely viewing experience, and when baby is propped up next to me after a feeding I don't feel so guilty that my four month old is already watching TV.

But nature shows can be just awful. There was a particularly sad episode that centered on the arctics, and I guess the creators wanted to make some statement about the effects of global warming, so they showed how the polar bear's habitat was shrinking. This one polar bear had swum for so long and finally made it to a tiny island inhabited by walruses. He was desperately hungry and attempted to kill a walrus, something Attenborough made seem like a rare thing. The walrus won, injuring the polar bear in the process. The camera mercilessly shows the polar bear limping away, and it dies a slow death of starvation.

I thought about that damn polar bear all night. How the bear was raised like the other cubby bears the episode started with, that this one made it into adulthood, and how the shrinking ice caps are making life a marathon just a bit longer than these bears can run. And the Emporer Penguins go on this long journey to incubate just one little egg, and some of them won't make it because their moms will die when they're off trying to feed themselves, and some other penguin mamas will be so desperate to replace the baby that dies for whatever reason that they'll accidentally crush the baby they want to adopt they're so excited about it.

Image result for sick sad worldI remember the Daria cartoon that she and Jane would always watch: it's a Sick Sad World. How hard it is to love something deeply, to know that others love deeply, and that sometimes it doesn't work out well.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

This 'n that

The last couple of weeks have been sighs of relief for us here in New Babyland. Right around 11 weeks, the little girl put herself on a schedule of sorts. We finally figured out her "I'm tired and on my way to overtired" signs and are better at getting her down for naps, so she's actually sleeping longer during the day and at night. And as long as we don't try to keep her up too much, she isn't the mysterious, cranky baby we so often knew those first few weeks.

This has allowed a sense of normalcy to take over the house. I feel like I know what is coming next, and that I have the tools to deal with it. I look forward to her waking up from naps, as this means she'll be calm and coo-ey, happy to see us. I know she won't be upset about nursing if I get her when she's still a little groggy from the nap, and we can enjoy some cozy time together. Putting her to bed early (around 7:30) allows S and I to have some us-time before going to sleep; previously, we just had her with us until I went to bed. Best of all, lately she's only been getting up once per night and sleeping until 6:00. Heaven, I tell you.

Perhaps due to the rested feeling that I am privy to these days, I'm actually interested in dressing the baby. Like, I think ahead of time what I'll put her in, and I spend time browsing online for little outfits that she doesn't need. Never. did. I. think I would be interested in baby clothes! It's like I transferred my love for shoes and intermittent interest in my own wardrobe to this little nymph who will look back on her photos of this period with little interest.

It's not always coasting, of course. There were a good 10 days or so where she was on a self-imposed nursing strike and wanted the bottle. If she was tired or really hungry, she'd scream if I offered her the boob. So, I spent a lot of time enslaved to the pump while S fed her. This phase has mostly passed, which is nice. Nursing is just so much easier.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

When the baby gets here, we will __________. (Famous last words)

The best laid schemes o' Mice an' Men, 

Gang aft agley, 
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain, 
For promis'd joy

I'm a planner. I can easily hold a monthly schedule in my head that features key events for both my and my spouse's lives. (Or at least, I used to. We showed up at the baby's doctor appointment yesterday at the wrong time!)

The nesting phase in pregnancy came pretty naturally to me. I read up on attachment parenting stuff and ways to soothe babies, registered for baby carriers, learning as much as I could about breastfeeding and co-sleeping.

Now that I'm two months in, I see that (at least for me) nesting comes from that anxiety that underlies our approach to the unknown. First-time moms simply cannot fathom what's in store for them. But let's try to distract ourselves from that frightening reality with strollers, expensive bassinets, advice, and more!

So many of my plans went agley as soon as the little one hit the ground. They were mere fantasies.

1) Fantasy: I'd baby-wear her all the time, and I'd get so much done and I'd get to feel all proud and superior, like "Look at me, I never put my baby down, she gets so much love."
  • Reality: She doesn't really like the carriers. She is not a fur coat! She will not be worn. At least, not yet. She's happy being in her little bouncer, or a swing, or chilling on the couch next to me while I avoid cleaning. 
2) Fantasy: Sleep together as a family, all cozy together, in our king size bed.
  • Reality: This is just not happening. Like, at all. She's in the same room, at least, so she can't hold "you let me sleep in a closet!" over my head 20 years from now, but the rest of the arrangement didn't shake out. We are even considering setting up her own room in another couple of months. 
3) Fantasy: I will never consider a sleep schedule. I'm no nazi! I'll let her wean from night feedings on her own.
  • Reality: Oh, I cannot wait until she hits four months or so and I can ever-so-gently encourage her to drop the 3:00 a.m. feeding. You know... the 3:00 a.m. feeding that turns into 4:00 a.m. awake time, that winds up with a 5:00 a.m. snack. I've learned you just can't judge.
4) FantasyI will be in love with your baby at all times. 
  • Reality: Sadly, no. It's hard work. Nothing could have prepared me for how much my life would change, and those moments where the baby is crying and kind of looks like an alien, and you have no idea how to stop the wailing, or if it will ever get better, and when you wonder whether you should run far, far away will really tax your sense of love. But don't worry, self; the love comes back, and it does get better.
Here are a couple of things I wish I'd used my nesting energy to learn/do:

1) Swaddling. Babies freakin' love it, and it's hard to do the blanket swaddling well. Those first few nights we were so frantic, trying to get it right. The sleep sacks are great but they just don't fit a newborn very well (not a six pounder, anyway). I wish I'd practiced on a doll a few times.

2) Sleeping sitting up. (this one is self-explanatory)

3)  Arm lifts. Those car seats are heavy.

4) Do nice things for family and friends before the baby comes. Cuz if you have good people in your life, you will want to thank them in advance for the help they give, whether it's a visit, a baby-sit, a midnight text message or an email.

5) Unsnap the nursing bra with one hand. Duh! This one is so important.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Baby at One Month: Beyond Thunderdome

While I was pregnant, I often thought of the experience as a series of peaks and valleys, one long roller coaster ride, storms and calm seas, insert your cliche of choice here. I'm too tired to come up with a unique one. I couldn't conceive of a life with a baby, so I'm somewhat surprised to notice that the same dynamic continues in the month of baby's life.

thunderdomeWell, it continued after the first ten days or so. At some point I'll try to characterize those, but for now, I'll say that the first ten days were a sort of gold-plated cage, a Thunderdome of sorts, in which we were to engage with the forces of Baby. We had the tools (boob, swaddle, diapers, cuddles, etc) but we wielded them clumsily as we attempted to care for this new little being that aroused such depth of emotion in us. Those first days are coated in a milky haze I will probably never remember completely.

Now, I kinda know how the day will go. At least, I think I do, but holding on to expectations is probably a very bad thing to do. Many days follow a pattern, though with frequent night feedings they bleed one to the next. Technically, my day begins at about 5:00 a.m. or whenever Baby awakens thereabouts. I trudge to the second bedroom where husband is sleeping and hand her over. She gets to be fed her one bottle a day, from breastmilk I've pumped the previous morning. I go back to sleep and get an uninterrupted three hours or so.

The husband then leaves for work or school, and Baby continues her dreamlike existence of sleeping for a couple of hours followed by a period of wakefulness. I nurse her, gaze into her blue eyes (which are now producing real tears!), muss her hair, kiss her head, and talk nonsense to this ever-increasingly alert little being.

After she grunts and throat-clears herself into a nap, I get a couple of hours of "free time" here and there to tidy the kitchen, sterilize breast pump parts, check email, or steal a shower. We manage to get out once a day--a walk in the stroller or a quick trip to the store or, yes, to Jack 'n the Box for a milkshake. Sometimes family or friends drop by to help and/or to just love on Baby. It's a quiet existence for an overachiever like me, who used to accomplish a slew of tasks before 9:30 a.m. It's taking some getting used to, but I wouldn't have it any other way.

And then there are days that bop me on the head out of nowhere, days that leave me feeling more isolated and helpless than I ever have. After a tough night of Baby wakefulness, in which all the tools of Thunderdome did little to lull her to sleep, the little one demands a nursing day, in which we stay awake for eight hours straight, feeding, cuddling, consoling, and watching episode after episode of Prime Suspect and Call the Midwife. I'm hardly able to stop tending her long enough to run to the bathroom or shove an egg--peeled, hard-boiled, at the ready--in my mouth. Where was this sleep-for-16-hours a day prescription the baby books promised me? It's all I can do not to rush her to husband and say "Here! Help!" as he walks in the door.

On days like this, my world is as small as a thimble; Baby fills it utterly.

The Thunderdome matches are unpredictable, from choppy seas to smooth waters and all that. But I wouldn't have it any other way.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Sergeant Sweet Pea

Baby will be four weeks old on Friday. Holy moly, never has time gone so fast and so slow at once.

I struggle to express just what these first weeks are like. I've heard becoming a parent compared to taking a trip to Neptune. I've heard it compared to being in jail, only the warden is someone you really like. I'm thinking it's more like your home suddenly turns into boot camp, only the drill sergeant is a sweet, nursing baby instead of Lee Ermey.
Image result for lee ermey meme 
The sergeant tells us when we can sleep, eat, bathe, and do pretty much anything else. Some days, she's merciful and takes naps exactly when I need to cook or shave my legs, or she'll sleep for almost four hours at once at night. Others, she manages to know exactly when I'm exhausted and boob-drained so she can pull a four-hour cluster feeding session in the middle of the night.

A friend said that it's normal to go through a grieving period during a big transition like this. That makes a lot of sense, as I occasionally found myself tearing up at odd moments those first two weeks--seeing a coupon on the fridge for a restaurant we planned to try, or seeing an article about a new teaching methodology. Anything outside the context of keeping the new baby warm, fed, clean, and comfortable was a jarring and sometimes painful reminder of what was the norm just a few days before.

Nothing fully prepares you for how radically your life changes in that time you walk into the hospital and before you cross your door's threshold a couple of days later.

But with change comes new joys! I get to know my partner in a totally different way. The husband and I are so close, and I do miss knowing every little detail about each others' days and every ache and craving in our hearts. That sort of intimacy (along with the other, of course) is on hiatus, as we just don't have the time to sit, cuddle, and talk everything through like we used to. And that means I get to see the husband walking the walk. I always found him to be an amazingly supportive partner, and that's definitely manifesting with the baby as well: he changes her diapers, gets me food and drinks while I'm nursing or pumping, and goes to bed early so he can get up at 5:00 a.m. and give me a break.

Something new is growing, and this is the first time we've ever undertaken something entirely huge like this. Just like boot camp, we've signed up for this baby thing for a reason bigger than ourselves. And we're doing it together.
Image result for soldier man woman

Monday, March 9, 2015

A Birth, Part II

I continued crying on and off as I settled into the bed where my baby would be born some twelve hours later. Of course, I didn't know this at the time. Stories about inductions gone wrong steamrolled my brain: 24-hour labors followed by the dreaded "failed to progress" diagnosis, ending up in a C-section. The young doctor's encouragement that I was effaced and somewhat dilated already did little to reassure me.

It was a little after 4:00 p.m. when I shuffled into the delivery room. We could only have four people in the room at a time, and my plans to have a doula friend accompany the husband and me seemed off somehow: the medical supply-laden room and urgent circumstances were incongruent with the natural birth I'd been planning for. Nature had collided with modern medicine and I was still scared to death about what was happening. I called my aunt and good friend in addition to my husband, craving family to warm up that that machine-filled environment.

With the exception of a violent, bloody insertion of the IV line into my arm, the next two hours are a blank, but until about 7:00 I was riding solo. Nurse Jackie arrived, starting her 12-hour shift, and she immediately hooked up the magnesium sulfate and pitocin drip, setting the meter at 12 ("We can increase it to 16. Then, if for some reason it's not working, we can get doctor's approval to go to 24").

Somehow, Steve, my aunt, and my friend arrived, seemingly all at once. The husband made the grandest entrance, toting a big smile and a sack of loot from Taco Fiesta. He went behind the curtain to eat carne asada tacos by the baby warmer, as the magnesium was already making me nauseous.
Image result for pitocin drip
For the first few hours I was aware of little except the discomfort my body felt from being strapped to the bed. I had two monitors on my belly, three medications and a saline solution pumping into me. It took a nurse and ten minutes to unhook me and get me to the bathroom. Initially, I was committed to my no pain-meds birth--we'd spent five Saturdays in natural childbirth class, after all, and I'd read more than enough books on the subject.

The first OB-GyN of the evening walked in and did an even more painful cervix check. "Good!" she said. "You're already three cm. We should talk about when you'll get the epidural."

"Umm, I was hoping to go without meds," I replied quietly. Inwardly, my resolve was already weakening, though I had no pain at this point, just waves of nausea from the medications.

The doctor looked annoyed and sighed before she walked out.

They say that for the laboring woman, the experience is timeless. At least there was some advice that was true for me!

Somewhere around 1:00 a.m. I brought up Obama and ISIS. My family laughed at my attempt at small talk. I then heard and felt a popping sensation and a quick burst of pain, the first real pain I'd felt so far. My water had broken, I figured. This set off what finally felt like real contractions. Somewhere between 1 and 3:00 a.m., after breathing and moaning through each one my blood pressure grew higher. Trapped on the bed like a prisoner, unable to enact any of the pain-reducing techniques we'd learned in childbirth class, I decided to go for it--I asked for the epidural.

Though the epidural needle insertion was anxiety-ridden, it wasn't any different from what I imagined it being, and the relief it brought was instant and welcome. Moreover, my blood pressure lowered and I was able to go off the nausea-inducing magnesium. After my aunt and friend left for the night, reassured that it would be at least another ten hours before the baby was born, Steve and I settled into an uneasy sleep, a balloon called the "peanut" between my knees to keep my pelvis in a good position for the baby. I remember feeling like our room was enormous and dark, a private, machine-filled temple where only Steve, Jackie, myself and the baby labored together through a dull sleep.

It was around 5:00 a.m. that I started feeling contractions again. This time, they made me think of a vertical canoe, taking over my abdomen from my fundus to my perineum. The nurse had the anesthesiologist turn up the epidural meds. At 6:00, the OB came and checked my cervix. I was fully dilated, and the baby's head was about to emerge.

Turns out those intense contractions were transition and my body's natural pushing. They say women in comas have birthed babies unassisted. I believe it! My body, completely numb, had pushed the baby just an inch or two away from the outside world.

The room flooded to life: Nurse Jackie, minutes away from the end of her shift, was now accompanied by at least six other nurses and an OB, another youngun who looked to be years away from having children of her own. Four contractions later I had pushed out the slippery little selkie.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

A Birth, Part I

After a passionate start, my letters-to-future-baby blog withered on the vine. At some point I realized I had a lot to say to future baby, and as her due date drew near, most of it was not fit for public consumption.

The last few weeks of pregnancy were marked by thrice-weekly doctor visits for non-stress tests and OB-GYN appointments. I knew early on that the OB was going to angle for an early delivery, but I was still completely taken aback when I went for a routine checkup one Thursday at 37 1/2 weeks. I didn't go home again until I had a baby in my arms.

See, before little one came, I was beginning to really relish the last few weeks of pregnancy. Like, really relish them. I slept a lot. Although my blood pressure numbers crept higher, I wasn't particularly worried about it--baby was fine, according to all the tests she and I were getting. Plus, there were friends to see, meals to make, restaurants to try, and a hubby to snuggle. Like a pot coming to a boil on the stove, I was increasingly aware that once the LO arrived, things would change in ways I couldn't imagine. Frankly, I was getting cold feet, especially when I woke up in the middle of the night and knew that after a quick pee I'd be able to go right back to sleep in my cozy bed. From what I'd heard, that wouldn't be the case with a baby.

I figured once hubby and I finished our nesting chores--which were to culminate in the installation of closet doors of baby's future room--I'd really be ready. So after the nurse told me to talk to the doctor about my high blood pressure readings after my NST that Thursday, I was not prepared for what he was going to tell me.

"We need to talk about an induction."

"Really? My readings were totally normal two days ago. And you just said it yourself--baby herself is doing fine in there."

"Yes, her heart rate was normal. Now. But your readings are dangerously high. Pregnancy is making you sick, and the best thing to do is to have your baby. Go to Labor and Delivery and get a second opinion. But my recommendation is to induce tonight."

My shiny-scalped OB-GYN, usually so lighthearted and Buddhist, had a new, grave look on his face.

"Uhh, this is all happening too fast." I figured I'd try negotiating. "What do you say I go in tomorrow? That way I can go home, get my stuff, and maybe the readings will be lower."

Another new look crossed his face: annoyance. "Look," he said. "This isn't a negotiation. I wouldn't be recommending this if I didn't think it was important and needed to happen now."

I fought back the tears until I was out of his office. An hour later, I was in Labor and Delivery and again fought back the tears as another OB, this one even younger than myself, poked at my membranes through my cervix. "Yep," she said. "You're effaced and a little dilated. Your body is ready. You ready to have this baby tonight?" Her cheerful looked dimly masked the same stern expression the other doctor had, and I knew I wasn't getting out of it.

Through a choppy phone call to Steve I managed to convey to him that a) I was being induced and, b) please get the hospital bag and something for yourself to eat, as it promised to be a long night. After sending off a couple of texts, I cried a really ugly cry.

As I sobbed, I overheard another nurse tell an incredibly fit pregnant woman that everything looked great: "I'd recommend taking it easy on the exercise at this point, as it can affect your blood pressure. But you seem to be doing great. I see no reason why you shouldn't be able to go to at least 40 weeks." Lucky bitch. I was usually the fit, healthy one. The perfect birth that Steve and I had rehearsed and planned for wasn't going happen. I felt like some holy promise had been broken: the fucking closet wasn't installed.

It was to be the first of many incidents that were completely out of my control.