It’s crazy to think about what a difference a couple of weeks can make in your life. Two weeks ago we didn’t have a baby, and now I can’t imagine the world without her.
Two weeks ago I had no idea I would be using a phone app to keep track of another person’s bodily functions, either. But here we are.
By the 12th, I was having contractions all day. Mild ones, but distinguishable and time-able. I went to work as usual, and even went to a Tumblr / RVANews / Mobelux happy hour at Pasture afterward. Appetizers, glass of wine, laughter — and everyone wished me luck and hoped the baby would come soon.
Starting at 2am the morning of the 13th (the baby’s due date), I could no longer sleep through the contractions because they had increased in intensity. I got up at 2:30am, took a shower, and started packing some of the last remaining necessities in our hospital bags. I let work folks know what was going on and stayed home from the office. I refilled Sophie’s bowl and downloaded an app to track my contractions. I took a walk to Chimborazo park and that was the first time had to actually stop walking and wait the contractions out, so it seemed like things were definitely progressing.
We already had an appointment with the midwives at 11am, so though contractions weren’t close enough to officially go to the hospital, we went anyway for the appointment. Given how far apart the contractions were (still anywhere from 4 to 7 minutes apart and not very consistent), they would have liked to have sent me home and let me continue laboring there, but my blood pressure was high, so they sent me over to labor & delivery for some blood work and monitoring.
Over at L&D we were placed in a corner room that overlooks the White House of the Confederacy, one of my favorite buildings in Richmond, while we waited for test results. My blood work came back fine but blood pressure didn’t go down and they weren’t comfortable letting us go home. “The cure for the high blood pressure is delivery, so you’re going to deliver this baby today.” High blood pressure and all, we were excited. We hung out in the room and weathered the contractions together, chatting with our Deadhead nurse about concert experiences and how she really needed to see Detroit Rock City. The midwife on call, Leslie, checked on us periodically until her shift was taken over by Amber.
Shortly afterward we were moved to a larger room down the hall, and Amber checked our progress. There hadn’t been much even after a full day of contractions. We still needed to deliver the baby, and the concern was that I wouldn’t have the energy to do so if things continued progressing so slowly, so she suggested a tiny bit of Pitocin to nudge it along. I got hooked up to an IV and went toddling down the hall pushing the fluid in front of me. Contractions seemed to speed up at first, but ultimately the Pitocin didn’t help.
By about 4am I had been up for 26 consecutive hours and was starting to lose it. I was no longer very lucid, I was having trouble understanding what was going on, and when Dan or Amber or our nurse would talk to me, I was like a bobble head nodding all over the place, struggling to keep my head up. We regrouped and Amber said that we could either take drugs to completely stop labor so that I could sleep, then start it all over from scratch in the morning — or get an epidural now, let labor progress while I was sleeping, and start pushing the baby out in the morning. You can imagine after so many hours of having contractions that the first option of fully starting over from scratch was NOT appealing. However, I really hadn’t planned to need an epidural and I was handling contractions fine on my own. I asked Amber what she would do in this situation, stressing that she’s the professional and would just know better than I would. She said that she would get the epidural, and that even though it wasn’t part of my plan, sometimes you just have to take a different path to get to the birth you want, and that the birth you want is really just a healthy birth for the baby and yourself.
I got the epidural. An anesthesiologist came in and tried valiantly to place the needle, which took a while because I had a mole right where he needed to go with the needle (quelle surprise). But he made it work, and then he repeatedly tested my feeling by pricking me gently and asking whether I could feel it on various spots around my middle. He had to keep upping the dose, which doesn’t surprise me because I’ve always been pretty resistant to pain medication / novocaine / you name it.
After this Amber broke my water, and I immediately felt a some of that tight, pressured feeling that had been building for weeks ease up. But as the epidural started to take effect and I started to feel a little fuzzy, it seemed like some kind of panic set in and lots of people filled the room, and I was asked to flip over onto my side so that all I could really see was Dan — and his face was worried. A doctor came in and introduced himself though I can’t remember his name now, and he said “I’m sorry we have to meet like this.” Then without any explanation an oxygen mask was heading toward my face and someone strapped it on and I was trying to ask why we needed it, and above the rest of the chaos I could hear instructions to breathe deeply, breathe in the oxygen, bathe the baby in oxygen. So I took lots of deep breaths and eventually things got quieter, people left the room, and I lay on my back and rested.
Dan later filled me in that what happened was something that’s not uncommon when you get an epidural — my heart rate dropped an alarming amount, and the baby’s completely disappeared from the monitor. He said that Amber was watching the monitor and said “Baby,” then ran out into the hall and a bunch of people rushed in. He said it was the scariest moment of his life. After I got the oxygen mask though, both the baby and I stabilized and everything was alright again.
At this point my mom was still in the waiting room just hanging out, which I felt horrible about since she had been there all day and still nothing was going to happen for another few hours. We had a couch and recliner in our room, so Dan went to get her so that she could catch some sleep while we slept too. I don’t really remember a specific point where there was no more pain and I could sleep, so the anesthesia must have snuck up on me like the magical creature that it is.
I didn’t have my phone handy anymore so when I woke up I figured I had gotten a full night’s rest, because I felt as marvelous as someone can possibly feel wearing yesterday’s smeared makeup and not quite able to feel her feet. But I went to sleep at 4 something and woke up around 7, so I couldn’t have gotten more than 3 hours of sleep. But it was restorative. Meghann, the midwife we had gotten to know the best and who had led my Centering Pregnancy group, was just starting her shift and she came in to say hello. The plan was for her to go on rounds and for us to start pushing when she got back. In the meantime anesthesia came back in to top off my epidural and then cut it off so that I could regain feeling in order to push. By the time Meghann got back I was starting to vaguely feel contractions again and we were all ready to do this thing. With Dan and Mom holding up my left leg, two nurses holding up my right leg, and Meghann waiting to catch the baby, we watched for contractions and I pushed as hard as I could when they came around.
After about 40 minutes of pushing the baby was almost out, but I had to stop mid-push because the baby’s arm was up by her face, which means it could stop her from coming out or get broken or something. Meghann was able to move it down though so that after a couple more pushes and a quick moment of pain worse than the rest, the head was out. The body followed with the next push and she was immediately placed on my chest, where she cried for a second and then lifted her head up and started looking around. I didn’t really know what to say, I just stared at her and smiled and couldn’t believe this person had been inside me for most of a year.
The rest of the hospital stay was a whirlwind. After the baby fed a little bit, the nurses weighed her, took measurements, and gave her various tests etc. in this neat pod thing that they wheeled into the room. A pediatrician and some students came by to take a look at her and answer any questions we had. I started getting some feeling back in my legs and feet. I was transferred to a gurney and wheeled to the room we’d be recovering in, in the Maternal / Fetal Medicine unit. Once there, people were coming in at all hours. A nurse to check on me, take my blood pressure, check my bleeding, etc. A nurse to check the baby’s vital signs and look at the log I was keeping of what times she ate and used the bathroom. A lactation consultant to make sure the baby was feeding okay. Anesthesiologists again to see if I needed anything else. Pediatricians again. Midwives checking on me. A friend who works at the hospital to say hi. Family, friends, everybody bearing gifts and smiling and holding the baby. I felt really happy and weak and just dazed in general, and pretty much did nothing but drink lots of water and go to the bathroom and feed the baby for a couple of days.
On Sunday afternoon I was pushed out of there in a wheelchair, down to the valet area where Dan met us with the car and we put our baby in it and drove home. That day went pretty well, and it was great to be back in the house with our little treasure. Monday morning we went to VCU Pediatrics and everything went well at Morella’s checkup. But the rest of Monday and Tuesday were bad — the baby pretty much cried nonstop and acted hungry even though she had just been fed, and wouldn’t sleep unless you were holding her or feeding her, so I got no sleep. On Wednesday I called and talked to a lactation consultant, who said it sounded like the baby wasn’t getting enough milk, so we went to see her before our 2nd appointment with the pediatrician. She helped us out a ton and the baby was sleeping happily by the time we went over to see the pediatrician, but the baby had lost enough weight between Monday and Wednesday for him to be alarmed. He had another lactation doctor come in and we fed the baby again with her watching, and got even more instruction. After this we were told that we needed to feed her about every 2 hours and supplement with pumped breastmilk or formula, and come back the next morning for another weight check.
I could tell that the doctors were worried, and that if they wanted us to come back so soon the baby must be really not doing well. I cried. A lot. I was worried too and though it’s totally irrational, felt like the worst mother on the planet for not nourishing my baby properly. No amount of excuses or explanations can vanquish that feeling. I’m sure I’ll be dealing with it for years to come.
But with our new lactation skillz the baby was already doing better, and she slept more soundly and ate lots more over the next day, and had already gained almost 2 ounces by the time we took her back in for her weight check. The doctors were impressed and said that we should keep doing what we were doing, which we did. I still cried a lot though. When we went back this Tuesday the baby was getting close to regaining her birth weight, and had been gaining about 46 grams a day compared to the 30 grams a day that most babies gain. So we’re on the right track, and though I’m completely exhausted from breastfeeding and pumping and bottle-feeding in quick, (what feels like) never-ending succession day in an day out, I’m relieved that that she’s going to be okay.
Our family and friends have been awesome and so helpful during these past couple of weeks, and my mother-in-law is here now and is also helping out a ton. Today, we had an estate planning meeting and were able to leave the baby at home to go to the meeting and pop into Portrait House for a quick lunch on the way back. It was good to get out of the house, but of course I had a nagging feeling that I should be doing something for the baby the entire time.
It’s so strange how powerful those feelings are. People always say that as soon as you have a baby, you immediately love them more than you ever could have thought possible. I always feared that this would not be the case for me, and I would have to grow to (hopefully) love my baby or something instead of the “magic” baby love just descending upon me all at once. But no. I’m just as crazy in love with my baby as everybody else is with theirs. Before I even knew about the feeding issue, I was really weepy. I’ve been feeling panicky about Dan going back to work in a couple of weeks and us not being able to use this sweet time to its absolute maximum for quality family hangouts, since we have so many (boring, household-y) things on our to-do list that can only be done when we’re off work. I’ve been feeling so happy that I can barely enjoy it because I’m terrified that something will happen to take it away (Murphy’s Law guys — it’s real). I think some of this may be because I was so miserable for so many years that I got used to that being the norm, and now that in my view I’ve been lucky enough to somehow stumble into perfect happiness, I can only imagine it being temporary. And then there’s the baby herself. Every time I look at her I’m seized with fear of missing anything, missing any of her progress, missing any sign that she might be unhappy or uncomfortable, etc. Afraid that I’ll wake up one day and she’ll be 5 years old. I’m a cup sloshing around the house and if I tip just a little bit to one side or the other, tears spill out. But I know that this is all normal “baby blues” stuff, and some of it has already subsided a bit as the days go by. I’m trying to take deep breaths and fight against my instinct to take the long view, and to just chill out and take things day by day and hour by hour.
Dan and I are on a whole new level I think, which is something else that’s hard to imagine. Seeing him care for Morella and handle everything I can’t handle as I’m recovering has been…4rj20irj[0ajdfnawerkr I don’t know, now I’m just crying again. He’s had to reassure me more times than any sane being should have to reassure another sane being, and has injected humorous quotes into these stressful times, like
“Now that the baby’s here I’m going to be working on my thigh gap.”
“There needs to be a coffee holder in this baby car seat.”
There’s a lot more to say but this post has been a week in the making and is much too long. I think we’ll end it here for the moment. Lots of photos are here.